At some time in the recent past, there was The Accident. It caused massive destruction along all the world's coastlines, killing millions. Now it's a World Half Empty, as The Mafia's connections with construction means that they've gotten incredibly rich and powerful during reconstruction of the world's coastal cities. Also, there's the time strings. Shortly after The Accident, mysterious portals began to open, allowing people to step into the past. Only the Time Scouts are crazy enough to step through an unexplored gate, into an unknown and dangerous history. Also, you can't exist in two times at once, adding the risk of Shadowing yourself and dying instantly...Known as gates and strings, the time portals are now part of a tourism industry. Some gates are owned by private companies, some by the government. There are a number of laws related to the use of the gates and profits thereby.Set Twenty Minutes into the Future, the Time Scout books by Robert Asprin and Linda Evans follow the lives of the residents of Time Terminal 86, Shangri La Station, La La Land. Much of it involves time travel.There are four books in the series:
Time Scout (1995): Margo Smith is desperate to become the first female time scout. She's on a deadline, and she's not taking no for an answer.
Wagers Of Sin (1995): Skeeter Jackson is a thief, a con man, and all around scoundrel. He's got a dark and troubled past, a dark and troubled future, and he's just made a very deadly wager.
Ripping Time (2000): Jenna Cadrick is on the run from a murderous organization. She has no friends and no experience, but she's fighting for her life and running through time. Shangri La's about to get hit, hard, by enemies it didn't know it had.
The House That Jack Built (2000): The first direct sequel, Jenna's still on the run and Shangri La's mired in chaos. And then Jack the Ripper starts killing downtimer whores in Victorian London.
Anachronism Stew: Avoided for travel into the past. You don't want to be noticed by the natives. But the time terminal is called La La Land for a reason. It's not unusual to see a Roman slave casually chatting with an 1885 Denver cowboy in a medieval Japanese restaurant. That is to say, uptimer travelling to ancient Rome talking to another traveling to 19th century Denver in a cafe that mostly caters to tourists heading to medieval Japan.
Ancient Greece: The destination of the Philosopher's Gate and the home of Ianira Cassondra.
Ancient Rome: The destination of the Porta Romae and the home of Marcus, Ianira's husband the father of her children.
Apocalypse How: Class 0. The Accident devastates coastal communities, but mostly leaves society and technology intact.
Author Appeal: Generally, the critique of the Bad Present. The present has gone Lawful Stupid with regard to gun control, political correctness, and requiring things like a class in etiquette instead of a much desired math class. The residents of La La Land all prefer simple, practical approaches like carrying weapons when you're in a dangerous place, being forthright about the flaws of both past and present, and thinking etiquette is stupid and useless. Finally, the time scouts are expected to be masters of anything they might need to know in order to fit in and survive downtime, which means studying all of history, all languages, and all skills. By the end of his career, Robert Aspirin despised working and preferred to pursue random hobbies, like martial arts, archery, and drinking.
Badass Teacher: Kit and Malcolm are general mentors in scouting for Margo. Anne's career is teaching guns, and she and Kit vie for the position of second deadliest person of Shangri La. Sven, the number one, spends his days teaching almost any martial art (principally Aikido) and how to use any blade.
Badass Bookworm: All the scouts and guides have the equivalent of multiple degrees in history, language, mathematics, and ass-kicking. Kit Carson is the Ur Example in-universe.
Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: One of the popular theories about the identity of Jack the Ripper in the lead-up to that summer in Victorian London is that he iswas a rogue uptimer.
The Bermuda Triangle: An unstable nexus gate is a semi-permanent, semi-unstable gate that leads to a place with a whole host of semi-permanent, semi-unstable gates... The one in Shangri La opened up under a coffee kiosk and dropped it into... the Bermuda Triangle (semifacetiously, maybe not). It's definitely water, and definitely dangerous. Those who leaped to the kiosker's rescue went through half a dozen unstable gates trying to get back.
Bullet Proof Vest: Skeeter, Armstrong, and Jenna all wear them at various times, sometimes even when it's dangerously anachronistic.
Casual Time Travel: It's somewhat expensive, like two weeks in Italy, but it's certainly no more exotic than that.
Changed My Jumper: Averted. Time travellers are encouraged to buy appropriate costumes. Doing so properly can be very expensive, not necessarily because of rare materials, but because most sewing was done by hand in the past, and machines can't simulate the necessary imperfections.
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Chuck Farley. Goldie tries to scam him; he lets her start, then robs her blind. Skeeter tries to scam him; he lets him start, then robs him blind. Marcus tries to repay his purchase price; he kidnaps him downtime, resells him into slavery, and robs him blind. As soon as he's arrested, he betrays his employer.
Hustler: Skeeter's a master of the Short Con. He's lied about being a time scout, a time guide, a luggage handler, a bookie, and a Snake Oil Salesman. All in a single book. Goldie loves these, too. So does Chuck.
Snake Oil Salesman: Skeeter starts one of these schemes but gets interrupted. People like this abound on TT 86, much to the annoyance of Ianira Cassondra, who makes real potions.
Con Men Hate Guns: Skeeter would prefer to use a Mongolian recurve bow, but he'll make do.
Fixing The Game: Skeeter doesn't hesitate to cheat when he has to. In a quiet moment of awesome, he describes how a game was rigged three different ways in The House That Jack Built. He then establishes himself at a card game with an amusing anecdote about a mechanic.
Convenient Escape Boat: During one escape, Skeeter ends up in the Tiber. Fortunately a boat happens to be right at hand. Also, a Convenient Escape Horse, in that as soon as he gets out of the water he happens upon a champion racing horse.
Cool Horse: How Skeeter escapes from Lupus the first time. How he wins in the arena.
An unstable gate opens up on the Battle of Orléans, accidentally dumping Margo in it. She comes back through and is followed by a Welsh bowman and a French knight. The Welshman keeps trying to kill Margo (he thinks she's Joan of Ark). The horse rears and drops the knight, who immediately bolts back through the gate. A stupid 86er figures a trained war horse has to be worth a bundle and nearly dies for his trouble.
Costume Porn: You really don't want to stand out when you go downtime, and clothes really do make the man. Connie Logan's "Clothes And Stuff" is the place to buy your outfits. They're always top of the line, and usually very expensive. They often look very good.
Damsel in Distress: Margo in the first book, Birgitta in the third, Ianira in the third and fourth.
Deadly Training Area: How the past is viewed. You go into the past without the proper training and you can wind up dead fast.
Decade Dissonance: In Victorian London, neighborhoods of opulent wealth butt up against neighborhoods of desperate poverty. The Ripper Terror exposes the desperation of the worst neighborhoods of London's East End, and leads to reforms that ease the horrible conditions therein.
Decoy Protagonist: Margo is the central character of Time Scout. Then Skeeter steps in for Wagers of Sin and walks away with much of the rest of the series.
Defeating the Undefeatable: Lupus Mortiferus has one hundreds of times in single combat. Skeeter steals a fortune from him. Who does Skeeter end up facing in the arena? How does it end?
Evil Luddite: Anyone who doesn't like time gates or modern guns is presented as vile.
Evil Weapon: Modern villains have modern, ie evil, guns. The heroes all use period weapons. This is especially Anvilicious when the villains take modern weapons downtime and the heroes use period pieces uptime.
Failsafe Failure: The many systems Time Tours and BATF have in place are ... completely useless. And then some.
Failure Is the Only Option: Things are looking very good for Skeeter at the end of Wagers Of Sin. At the start of Ripping Time, he's working several menial jobs. Given his past, there really wasn't any way he could just become a hero.
Fan of the Past: History tourism is a thing. Time guides are basically incredibly competent tour guides who also have Ph.D.s. Time scouts are all Indiana Jones.
Fantastic Racism: Persons with indeterminate genitalia or intermediate gender face discrimination. The response of some to "intersexuals" is well over the top.
The Fashionista: Margo dresses well. Timeless class. And when she first encounters Connie Logan's shop, she practically orgasms.
Field Trip To The Past: In order to psych Margo up and get her interested in her difficult historical research, she's given a few tours downtime. First to Victorian England, then to Ancient Rome. She makes some serious mistakes each time, but also experiences some of the joys of learning.
Future Slang: Mostly averted, but at one point Margo comes to Shangri La from a semester at college with a little uptime slang that hasn't filtered through Primary. Also, the series has its own jargon regarding the time portals and time travel.
Also inverted with the downtime destinations. The language barrier doesn't exist in London or Denver, right? Wrong; after more than a century, the language and slang are wildly different.
Gender Flip: One of the theories floating around is that the Ripper Watch Team might be looking for Jill the Ripper.
Get Back to the Future: Uptimers occasionally get into scrapes downtime and have to work hard to get back to the future. This usually involves escaping from angry downtimers and their prisons, and getting past the hidden security that's been set up around the gate. Oh, and the gates go at intervals, so you have to get there at the right time.
Giving Radio to the Romans: Sort of. One downtimer gets his hands on uptimer materials and eventually discovers his way through the gates to La La Land.
Gladiator Games: Ancient Rome is a tourist destination. Tourists go and watch sometimes. Scouts and guides and tourists sometimes get unlucky and end up playing along.
Good Feels Good: Skeeter's new job is much more satisfying than his old job.
Heroic BSOD: Malcolm takes Margo to Brighton during her special trip to London. Normally, he doesn't take clients to the beach in February, and when they do go to the beach he usually avoids Brighton. That's because he's from Brighton and his younger brother drowned during The Accident. He has a breakdown and Margo has to keep him in one piece.
Hidden Elf Village: Shangri La is a complex warren of tunnels inside a Himalayan mountain in 1912.
Horse Jump: In the final book, Skeeter's horse jumps over a crashed wagon, but doesn't land well. In Wagers of Sin, Skeeter jumps a horse over a small shrine, exciting the arena's crowd. Then he takes it Up to Eleven by standing on the horse's back and using a spear to pole vault over the wall, a moment of ...
Horseback Heroism: Skeeter learned this in Mongolia. It comes to his aid many times. "If it's a horse, I can ride it." In the arena, he uses it to win a fight, escape the arena, and rescue Marcus.
I Need a Freaking Drink: All. The. Time. Some of the characters appear to be borderline alcoholics. Had a hard day? Have a drink. Had a long day? Have a drink. Got bad news? Have a drink. Talking to someone you don't like? Have a drink. Celebrating? Have a drink. Having a drink? Have a drink.
I Was Beaten By A Girl: Their first two bouts go to Malcolm. The last two go to Margo. That he, an experienced guide twice her age got manhandled convinces him he hasn't been spending enough time at the gym. That she, too, is spending time there is just a bonus.
Identical Stranger: Skeeter and Armstrong look very similar. It's the coloring and the bone structrue.
Idle Rich: Prince Albert Victor, AKA "Eddie". This is also Malcolm's cover when he goes to Victorian London; he's a landholder in the British Caribbean. It explains his long absences, his idiot friends from America, and the occasional wobble in his accent.
Improvised Weapon: A time scout prefers to be armed, but he'll use what he can get his hands on. Skeeter and the downtimers aren't afraid to improvise, either, though they have their preferred weapons when they can get their hands on them.
In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: While investigating Jack the Ripper, the Ripper Watch Team runs into William Butler Yeats at a social club. Cue massive fangasm by the time guide in charge.
It Will Never Catch On: One unpleasant downtimer goes on a misogynist rant when he encounters a female uptime reporter. He particularly laments that women are taking mens' jobs, usurping respectable professions like the secretary, polluting the office with their wanton ways.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Skeeter's a thief and a Con Man who ruined people's vacations, even lives. Of course, he had a little bit of an excuse, but, in the end, he was just drifting. He stole, he gambled, he drank, and he gave most of his money to charity. Wait, charity?
Living Legend: Kit Carson is one of the first ever time scouts. Margo Smith is his granddaughter and the first ever female scout. Ianira Cassondra has sparked a revival of the worship of Artemis and is an object of worship in herself.
If you exist twice in the same time, you'll die. It's called shadowing yourself. You can't cross your own shadow and live.
Magic Antidote: Lots of Snake Oil Salesmen sell these on Shangri La. Skeeter starts such a scam but gets interrupted. Ianira may just make the real thing. Skeeter's scheme was based on a Sacred Pool believed to have such properties near Marcus's childhood home.
Next Sunday A.D.: The series is set here or Twenty Minutes into the Future. It's implied to be the latter, but there are no practical differences apart from the time travel. Most of the action happens on the time terminal or in the distant past anyway.
No Biological Sex: Armstrong is a character with an ambiguous sexual identity. He could be a feminine man. She could be a masculine woman. She never identifies as either and he can pass for either. His hair is cut short, she wears wigs, and long-necked clothing eliminates the possibility of seeing an adam's apple.
No Equal Opportunity Time Travel: Women cannot be scouts. Period. When Margo insists, she ends up tortured and gang-raped by downtime Catholics and is almost burned at the stake. They can be guides. Guiding and scouting are wildly different professions; guiding is a fairly safe if high-compentence profession strictly limited to well-explored times and places where a woman can learn to blend in. Scouting is an extreme-risk profession where one is operating without a net and all but guaranteed to die horribly - Kit Carson is the only professional scout to retire. The race issue is never brought up.
No Woman's Land: The past is treated this way. Qurac is explicitly called as much. The downtimer muslim cult is presented as rabidly misogynistic, especially hating the revived worship of Artemis because it has a female deity.
Noodle Incident: The Accident is never described in detail. All we know is that it caused global tsunamis and significant damage to all coastal communities and, somehow, started the time portals. And it happened in the winter.
The Syndicate: A multinational organization with Caddrick as their pet senator. They're running drugs and sex slaves using the newly revived Temples of Artemis as their front. To prevent investigation of the temples, they murdered a famous and beloved actress heavily involved with the temples and go after Ianira and her children using Islamic extremists as their front for the murders so that the outcry will prevent the nascent investigation into the temples.
Yakuza: The final leg of The Syndicate tripod. Caddrick has significant business interests in Japanese construction. Japan was hit very hard by the tsunamis that followed The Accident. They also love to visit Kit Carson's Neo Edo hotel, and to go downtime to medieval Japan.
Out with a Bang: Someone conjectures that sex with Margo would kill you. His interlocutor implies it would be worth it.
Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted. Islamic terrorism is a huge problem (they're even recruiting downtimer jihadists), and the presence of an ancient priestess with mystical powers on Shangri La has caused a massive surge in the worship of Artemis. Oh, and Islam has a particular problem with the female deity of this new worship.
Papa Wolf: Marcus will go through hell for his little girls. So will Armstrong.
As soon as he finds out Margo's his granddaughter, Kit becomes very protective of her. Skeeter, having tried to scam Margo before anyone knew, walks very, very shy around both ever after.
Perma Stubble: Kit always sports a little mustache, but when things go to hell during Ripper Season, he ends up with manly stubble.
Pet the Dog: Skeeter's introduced as a minor villain in the first book. The second doesn't give you much reason to think otherwise, until you learn about his back story. Just before that happens, he keeps a promise and gives a small fortune to a friend.
Photo Doodle Recognition: Skeeter Jackson uses this to show that a few missing people went downtime to the Old West disguised as a caballero, a fancy lady, and a porter headed for a shooting competition.
Photographic Memory: Brian Henrickson remembers everything he's ever read. He's the Time Terminal's librarian.
Plot-Relevant Age-Up: Armstrong, Marcus, and his children run to Denver, then to London. They show up in London a few hours before they leave for Denver, three years older. Tragic, as it means Ianira has lost three years of her children's lives.
Popular History: Again, mostly averted. The authors go to some effort to make sure they avoid the worst stereotypes and be historically accurate. How well they succeed depends on your own knowledge.
Portal Cut: Averted. One portal closes on a lemming and it gets sucked back to the past with a startled look on its face.
Portal to the Past: The portals are exactly and explicitly linked. The station schedule for each gate lists three times for each, station time, present time, and past time. Except Primary, which links only the station and the present.
Powerup Mount: Skeeter is doing fairly well, holding his own in the arena. Then a horse ambles by and Skeeter becomes like unto a god.
Precognition: Ianira gets visions of the future, usually bad. "It is from uptime the danger comes."
Fainting Seer: Sometimes she falls into involuntary prophetic trances that leave her weak, even unconscious.
Postcognition: She can also see things that have already happened.
The Empath: She and Margo have an instant connection thanks to their similar histories and magic powers. Ianira's eyes will pierce your soul, and Margo has a literal heart-stopping smile.
Further, when Skeeter wakes up in pain, she comforts him. He begins weeping because only one person has ever been that kind to him. She immediately knows why.
Ianira: It is all right to weep out the pain, Skeeter. A man can go only so long alone, untouched, unloved. You miss your fierce Khan, I know that, but you cannot go back, Skeeter.
Pyrrhic Victory: Congratulations, Skeeter! You just stood up to a bully! A bully with massive wealth, criminal connections, government power, and a vindictive nature. And you've a checkered past he won't have any trouble using against you.
Qurac: The downtimer jihadists and their uptime recruiters are presented as Muslim extremists and rabid misogynists.
Really Seventeen Years Old: When Margo first shows up she claims to be eighteen. Halfway through the first book she celebrates her seventeenth birthday.
Rearing Horse: The horse in the arena protests Skeeter jumping on; he brings it under control.
Retroactive Precognition: Pretty much what scouts and guides really want to take advantage of. They want to see and observe important historical events first hand. In the series, the only time it's deliberately taken advantage of is by the Ripper Watch Team, finally learning who Jack the Ripper was.
Revolvers Are Just Better: Given that most gates lead to times before automatic and semiautomatic weapons, this just plain sense. Why carry anything but a revolver when nothing but revolvers exist?
Sadistic Choice: Here's your choice, assassin, you can stay here in downtime London where they'll lop your damaged hands off, or you can come home with us and receive the best of modern care and tell us all about your criminal bosses.
San Dimas Time: It's explicitly part of how the time portals work. Every portal moves a fixed distance backwards in time and the return portal moves that same fixed distance forward. Probably just as well since it helps to avoid the risk of "shadowing" yourself.
Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Malcolm refuses to work for Time Tours, believing they're ruining time tourism. He prefers to genteelly starve with his principles as an independent guide.
The Seven Wonders of the World: Ianira Cassondra trained as a priestess at the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, where her mother's sister was high priestess.
Sex Tourism: Some people go downtime to have sex with downtimer whores. This is viewed very negatively and explicitly referred to as rape. They're called "zipper jockeys" - and as many of them have modern circumcisions, they have to visit the(female) doctor in La La Land to avoid anti-Semites. She deliberately makes the operations as painful as possible.
Sharp-Dressed Man: Turns out Malcolm's quietly a clothes horse. His favorite persona for Victorian London is as an eccentric globe-trotting gentleman and he has to keep up with changing styles. Contrast Ancient Rome, where he's usually a collared slave.
Shotguns Are Just Better: Suberted. It's acknowledged that they have good stopping power at close range, but aren't any good beyond that, unless you're hunting birds. Skeeter's given a shotgun not because it's better, but because he's worse.
Sighted Guns Are Low Tech: Averted. Guns are among the things treated realistically. Old guns are treated as more difficult than modern guns, as among modern advancements are those that make them easier to use. But even dangerous modern guns (mostly just described as being "modern" and "evil looking") still have sights.
The Slow Path: Shows up in the final book. It's a very risky maneuver; gates aren't permanent. No matter how stable, any gate risks going unstable and disappearing.
Stylistic Suck: Most things in the past were hand made, and most people paid attention to things like clothes and weapons. Therefor, a scout's, guide's, or tourist's gear has to mimic the imperfections of hand made equipment.
You can't cause paradox. Anything that really matters can't be changed. There's no human enforcement, Contrived Coincidence just prevents it.
Things that can be changed are governed by uptime laws, mostly having to do with preventing profiteering and the theft of past treasures. This is governed by the Bureau of Access Time Functions (BATF).
Well, an explanation of how it doesn't happen is provided (in short, Contrived Coincidence keeps you from making any major, potentially-paradox-inducing changes to history, and existing at the same point in time more than once is instantly fatal to your current self, preventing you from undermining your presence by default), but not why the universe is set up that way in the first place.
Time Police: The BATF. Generally, they just keep people from profiteering from time travel and prevent excessive looting of historical treasures.
Time Travel: A limited form. Each gate opens for a limited interval at one location, and connects to a specific time and place. The two ends are linked, advancing forward in time at the same rate. If it opens on November 4th, 1913 in Rome and connects to September 13th, 1209 in London, and reopens on November 10th, 1913 in Rome, it will connect to September 19th, 1209 in London.
The Time Traveller's Dilemma: Not everyone in the past can be killed. Even if they can, it doesn't mean you have the right to kill them. Even in self defense. You are a foreigner and a trespasser and have the responsibility to be as invisible as possible.
Time Travel Escape: A group of activists request that this be attempted for Jack the Ripper's victims. They argue that random downtimer whores can't possibly be important enough to be paradox-proof. The main characters roll their eyes at this; it's not the people, it's the history that matters. In other words, averted.
Time Travel Tense Trouble: Generally avoided. Talking about past events uses the past tense. When it's a past event that's in the future on the other side of the portal, it uses the future tense. Sense the portals all use San Dimas Time, it works.
Other methods are generally illegal. Basically, people from the future have a ridiculously unfair advantage and we have an obligation to not take advantage of that. Also, taking treasures and art relics from the past is seen as a sort of rape. Even though some things are protected by paradox... for some reason. The Time Police exist to prevent these more complex methods.
Timey-Wimey Ball: Generally averted. The time portals are generally straight forward and don't let things get complicated, they just give access to a very few specific and largely unconnected times and locations, but when people start hopping around to multiple locations, and when it's possible to move from Denver 1885 to London 1888...
Title Drop: Rather gratuitously in the epilogue of the last book. Time Scout is dropped every time someone talks about scouting. Wagers of Sin only makes it to the cover. Ripping Time is an actual period of time in universenote The period of time during which the Ripper murders occurred. and is mentioned several times.
Training from Hell: How Margo views her relatively benign training as a scout. However, when she goes rogue and travels into the past on her own, she gets a very rough lesson in scouting. Also, Skeeter's childhood.
Trapped in the Past: This can happen. Time strings (the two gates and their opening schedule) have varying degrees of stability. If a gate goes unstable and disappears... In fact, one protagonist fell through a random, unstable gate as a child, but got lucky and was rescued when a stable gate was scouted nearby five years later.
Victory Is Boring: Skeeter's life post Heel-Face Turn is rather disappointing. It comes to a head: You just beat up a knife-wielding thug and handed him to the cops! You just carried the woman he was beating to the hospital, receiving warm congratulations! You just handed a truant kid over to the cops and felt a connection with a formerly antagonistic cop! You just got to stand up to a bigot! You ... just got fired. Now what?
Skeeter pines for the recurve bows of his youth, but he'll use a gun. In the Arena, he tricks them into giving him a lariat and a trident, those being what he was trained with and what was closest to the spears of his youth respectively.
Jack the Ripper prefers an Arabian jambiya for the ceremonial taking of heads.
Kynan Rhys Gower prefers his longbow or a war maul. But when their superiority is demonstrated in the face of an angry Cape buffalo, he asks, "You show gun?"
Weirdness Search and Rescue: Getting stuck in the past (downtime) isn't common, because it's an industry and everyone involved is very, very careful. However, it does happen occasionally, and when it does, the best are sent after them. The best being, basically, Indiana Jones, only with a much better ability to blend in. Time scouts and guides are trained to be invisible anywhen they go.
Skeeter also fits this trope. When he says "My father made me the man I am today." he means it as the absolute truth. He just don't know which father. One he hates, the other he loves and fears.
What Year Is This?: It's difficult to know what the date is on the other side of a gate. It's possible to see through it, but unless you're lucky, there won't be any human architecture or artifacts to identify it (the most common method for determining dates of a photograph). So a scout has to use other methods once he's on the other side. Since the result of imprecise dating can be fatal, they need to be precise. It involves taking a star fix and doing some math.
Ye Goode Olde Days: Averted. In fact, the suggestions given in the first paragraph of that trope are taken up by people in the book! They get multiple shots, they take many, many preparations against death and disease, they understand that they may have to be quarantined when they return, and men intending to go brothel-hopping downtime even get surgically restored foreskins.
You Can't Fight Fate: You can act in the past, picking things up, talking to people, even killing people. However, if someone is crucial to some later act, he cannot be killed. YOU can, though, so you should be careful not to anger the wrong person. Paradox will be averted through a convenient coincidence.