by Bryan Young
Reviewed by Christopher DeFilippis
There are times when every book reviewer wishes that such a one-word critique would suffice to describe a book, because the act of writing a full review would require a level of plot deconstruction and story analysis that the actual author of the book clearly wasn’t willing to engage in.
Such is the case with Operation: Montauk, a clunker of a time travel novel from author Bryan Young.
After traveling in time on a mission to kill Hitler before the start of the war, World War II Army Corporal Jack Mallory wakes up with most of his unit dead or dying, facing down a hungry Velociraptor—which he starts shooting in the face. After an instance of bloody mayhem, he meets up with other time travelers likewise stranded in prehistory, including 19th Century British inventor James Richmond, 20th Century scientist Veronica Keaton, and Captain Abigail Valentine and the surviving crew of the Chronos, the first faster-than-light vessel from some nebulous point in Earth’s far future. Oh, and there’s also a monkey named Albert, who’s actually better fleshed out than many of the human characters.
And as if being stranded 100 million years in the past and hunted by dinosaurs isn’t bad enough, Mallory and company soon find themselves facing an even greater danger. (SPOILER: Nazis!)
Young’s stated intent in writing Operation: Montauk was to capture the spirit of the adventure pulps of the 1920s and 30s. But what may have been an exercise in clever camp—or even a true homage ala Raiders of the Lost Ark—turns into nothing more than a derivative shoot-’em-up as the two-dimensional characters engage in one bloody dinosaur standoff after another.
As I said, ugh. Another good word to describe Operation: Montauk would be lazy. Lazy writing, lazy plotting, lazy tenses, lazy point of view shifts, lazy editing—even a lazy conclusion. Young will never let seven words suffice when he could write 15. And his overblown prose usually hovers somewhere between cringingly and laughably corny. To wit:
“For Valentine, that first step she took from the docking tube to her new command was filled with exhilaration. The company officer that accompanied her to her new ship saw only the stoic face of a stone wall, not one hint of pride or enjoyment. He no idea that Valentine was suppressing a smile that spread from one end of her heart to the other.”
Still, this might be forgivable (or even unintentionally entertaining) if the book featured compelling, sympathetic characters earnestly trying to get to the heart of the novel’s central mystery; i.e. why every time traveler apparently winds up stranded at this specific point in the past.
But Young gives this short shrift, with some sparse and rather obvious speculation by Richmond that it’s nature’s way of preventing time paradoxes. If Richmond really believes this, then why does he spend the majority of the book trying to rig up a working time machine from parts of others that have crashed? Wouldn’t he just wind up in the same pickle?
And when Mallory presses Veronica for her theories about their predicament, she just shrugs it off as a question for the “eggheads.” You’d think a scientist who helped design and build the time machine that got her stranded in the past would have at least a couple of theories about, you know, time travel. But Veronica doesn’t answer the question because Young clearly isn’t interested in it. For him, the time travel is just a means to an end; all that cogitating as to its hows and whys would only distract from the next gory Velociraptor skirmish.
And though the dinosaur battles are apparently this book’s raison d’être, they’re repetitive, one-note affairs, reading like Young learned everything he knows about the creatures from watching Jurassic Park.
This shallowness even extends to the book’s title. Operation: Montauk is the name of the time travel project that gets Veronica stranded in the past; yet there’s absolutely no explanation as to why it’s called Operation: Montauk. It’s as if Young googled the term “time travel experiments,” saw references to The Montauk Project in the search results, and just appropriated the name for his own purposes.
And this is where I’m forced to break the fourth wall and speak not as an impartial reviewer but as a reader who came to this book with some very specific expectations. I felt practically duty-bound to review Operation: Montauk, as both a time travel fan and a Long Islander.
The title implied that the book would have something to do with The Montauk Project and (by association) The Philadelphia Experiment, both of which I have explored thoroughly on my DeFlip Side radio program. (DeFlip Side #103: Mysteries of Montauk)
But instead of a fictional take on these whacked-out time travel conspiracy theories, I got a hyper-violent, R-rated Land of the Lost. Not that there’s anything ostensibly wrong with that, but the Operation: Montauk branding felt kind of like a bait and switch.
Don’t get me wrong—the book is still a poorly written mess, and I doubt it would have fared much better if Young did write the kind of story I was expecting. But I felt it necessary to share since my own preconceptions may be coloring my opinions.
So consider this full disclosure. If you feel it negates my ability to write a fair review, I understand. I’ll bear the burden with the stoic face of a stone wall. But you should know that I’ll be suppressing a pout that spreads from one end of my heart to the other.