#WhatImReadingNow: The Time Fetch

They walked silently to science class. Edward sat down in the back row and tried to think things through. A few days ago Feenix was a terror, a plague, a human tsunami, and now she was gone. Not only was she gone; it was like she had never existed. No one even remembered her, except Danton, Brigit, and him. Why? How could such a thing be? Rack his brain as he might, there were no good answers. …

Mr. Ross was standing in the middle of the room holding the fruitfly jar aloft. It was now absolutely, totally jammed with fruit flies. “As I said the other day, they get ten days to grow up, breed, and die. Each female lays about four hundred eggs. Let’s say there’s a hundred females in here right now and each one lays four hundred eggs in the next few days. How many new fruit flies will be in here by the end of next week?

“A million,” someone offered.

“What’s important for you to understand,” said Mr. Ross, “is that the growth of the population is exponential. It doesn’t merely double in size. Every ten days it is four hundred times bigger than it was ten days earlier. In theory, in ten days there will be forty thousand fruit flies in here. In twenty days, there will be sixteen million. If we let them out of here, by the end of next month they will have taken over the world, won’t they?”

A confused look of worry appeared on a couple of faces, but Robert said, “No, of course they won’t take over the world.”

“And why would that be, Robert?”

“Because they’ve got to find fruit to eat. When they run out of food, they’ll stop reproducing.”

“Excellent. There are many checks and balances built into ecosystems. One check of a population is how much food it has to eat. It can only keep on growing for as long as it has adequate nutrition. So when these guys run out of food they will start dying. Can you think of any other things that might keep this population from growing out of control?”

“Not enough room?” someone offered. “Sure,” said Mr. Ross. “If this population keeps exploding in here, they soon won’t have enough room to breathe or move.”

“Not enough to drink?”

“Right, again. Drought is a very effective way to keep populations in check. What about disease? And predators? If we let these fruit flies go in a nice sunny meadow full of swallows, they’d probably be mostly eaten up in an hour. In other words, a population can keep on growing only if no other checks are put upon it. In our world, the checks and balances are part of an extremely delicate and complicated system. Human beings, as we are continually discovering, are generally the worst offenders when it comes to messing with the balance of things.

“Let me remind you, my dear young friends, that you will soon inherit the guardianship of our beloved planet, a planet that is in the midst of a mass extinction event such as has not been seen since the CretaceousTertiary extinction event sixty-five million years ago when the dinosaurs were wiped out. There are predictions that if we continue in our greedy and shortsighted ways, half of all currently living species will be extinct within a hundred years. Remember what I have said to you many times. Entropy is one of the busiest and most powerful of forces at work in the world around us. Entropy, anybody?”

Robert answered in a bored voice: “The tendency of systems to move from order to disorder.”

“Right. All the things in a closed system—cars, people, animal species, the solar system—everything tends to run down, fall apart, die, lose available energy. Human beings, in their willful ignorance, generally seem eager to help the process along. But think about it, my young seekers. There may be ways to slow entropy down. Even reverse its progress. You can align yourself to fight alongside the powers of order and creation. You can battle to keep things going, even join the ranks of those who devote their lives to making greater harmony and knowledge. Or you can sit back and allow things to run down.”

There was one of those long pauses where everybody waited for something to happen. Only Edward and Danton and Brigit knew that they were all waiting for Feenix, who no longer existed, to interrupt and send the discussion shooting off on some other tangent. Since she couldn’t do this, the silence grew until Mr. Ross suddenly remembered that they were actually supposed to be talking about rocks.

“So,” he said. “Back to mineral formations. Let’s turn to chapter four.”
—Amy Herrick, The Time Fetch (Algonquin Young Readers, 2013)

Some thoughts on this book:

  • I have always loved middle grade fiction. It’s a very broad classification, with everything from sporty books (often for boys, who are, at this age, starting to lose interest in pleasure reading—just when it’s getting good!), animal books, historical fiction, and—my fave in this category—fantasy/sci-fi. Middle grade readers are at the perfect age for slightly far-fetched fiction that sucks you right in. If you add just enough science to keep things on the up and up, this adult reader is in heaven. Enter The Time Fetch. Fun! And perfect for a light read during stressful times.
  • (One exception in the middle grade category: I do not care for—I’m being diplomatic—the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Poorly written, in every sense of those words. I can’t for the life of me understand why the books have done so well. No, really.)
  • As I was reading The Time Fetch, I was reminded repeatedly of Einstein’s Dreams, a special novel I read in the early ’90s and have recommended repeatedly. The author of Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman, is an interesting guy, and I urge you to read his official bio and be amazed. He’s a poet, a novelist, and has a doctorate (physics) from Cal Tech. He is also, Wikipedia tells us, the founder of the Harpswell Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower a new generation of women leaders in Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia.
  • I’ve had more than one fruit fly infestation in my kitchen. Ugh.
  • I have read more biographies of Einstein—and books on physics and mathematics in general—than most people I know. This is unusual for a woman who only has a rudimentary grasp on middle grade–level math. :)
  • Here’s the blurb: “Under normal circumstances, a Time Fetch sends out its foragers to collect only those moments that will never be missed or regretted. It then rests, waiting to be called back by the Keeper, who distributes the gathered time where it is needed in our world and others. When eighth-grader Edward innocently mistakes a sleeping Fetch for an ordinary rock, he wakes its foragers too early, and they begin to multiply and gobble up too much time. Soon the bell rings to end class just as it’s begun. Buses race down streets, too far behind schedule to stop for passengers. Buildings and sidewalks begin to disappear, as the whole fabric of the universe starts to unravel. To try and stop the foragers, Edward must depend on the help of his classmates Feenix, Danton, and Brigit―whether he likes it or not. They all have touched the Fetch, and it has drawn them together in a strange and thrilling adventure in which the boundaries between worlds and dimensions are blurred. The places and creatures on the other side are much like the ones they’ve always known―but slightly twisted, a little darker, and much more dangerous.” I totally identified with that speeding-up of time thing.
  • School Library Journal says, “This transcendent middle-grade debut could almost be subtitled ‘A Young Person’s Guide to Existentialism.’ The opening scene presents Edward struggling to get out of bed with the knowledge that ‘it was all dancing atoms. Nothing was solid.’ It’s not a depressing novel, though. The story is strange and beautiful, with profundity hiding in the mundane while science and magic come to a comfortable alliance. … [It] provides an accessible, age-appropriate introduction to deeper themes of both the intellect and the spirit.” I agree! I loved the way the science lessons—Mr. Ross is Edward’s favorite teacher—subtly give clues to what’s happening in the Time Fetch universe. The book gets started and never lets up. Plenty of good tension! Your tween will enjoy it, for sure.

Tweet: I have always loved middle grade fiction. The Time Fetch.
Tweet: The Time Fetch: I was reminded repeatedly of Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dreams.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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