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Literature / TimeRiders

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Mess around with time and the world you know... could become a world you don't.
" Time travel is a terrifying weapon, far more powerful than anything ever before conceived. Mankind just isn't ready for that kind of knowledge. We're like children casually playing with an atom bomb."
Foster, TimeRiders

Time Riders is a series of nine Young Adult science-fiction novels by Alex Scarrow. Three teenagers find themselves saved moments before death by a mysterious agency, who recruit them to travel through time to correct errors in history caused by tampering time travelers from the future. Eventually, the trio discovers that the agency has far more secrets hidden away than they had originally thought.

The books in the series are:

  • TimeRiders (February 2010)
  • TimeRiders: Day of the Predator (August 2010)
  • TimeRiders: The Doomsday Code (February 2011)
  • TimeRiders: The Eternal War (July 2011)
  • TimeRiders: Gates of Rome (February 2012)
  • TimeRiders: City of Shadows (August 2012)
  • TimeRiders: The Pirate Kings (February 2013)
  • TimeRiders: The Mayan Prophecy (August 2013)
  • TimeRiders: The Infinity Cage (November 2014)

The book series contains examples of:

  • Age-Appropriate Angst: Maddy, Sal and Liam are all just teenagers, a valid reason for all of them being driven to tears at least once over the course of the series. Dealing with figuring out the Agency's secrets proves to be even worse for them than the much older Foster, who is already angsty enough as things are.
  • Alternate Self: Foster looks to be one for Liam, until City of Shadows when the team finds out that they are all support units and Liam and Foster are separate Liam units.
  • And I Must Scream: Chaos space. It messes up your mind if you get stuck there, tricking you into believing you have spent millenia in a place without anything to see, hear, or feel.
  • Artificial Human: The support units - robots created in the future that are almost exactly like humans. They are grown from cloned tissue, deliberately given the appropriate genetic makeup for up to 700% human strength, superior speed and reflexes ... and a brain the size of a walnut. They also have an incredibly powerful supercomputer hooked up to it. Aside from being seven feet tall and laden with more muscles than is strictly fair, they go from completely bald (after 'birth') to having fairly ordinary dark hair and grey eyes. They are flesh-and-bone rather than metal simply because it is better at learning and better at repairing itself on the field (flesh heals better than steel, at any rate). There are only two problems; they can't easily gauge emotional inflections like sarcasm, and they find it confusing and problematic to make a decision.
    • The first we meet, a male, is frequently described as 'an ox of a man', and before being named Bob; Maddy wanted to name him after Arnold Schwarzenegger for a reason.
    • The second, a female called Becks, is much more slender, but muscled like a gymnast. In fact, aside from her robotic coldness, quiet demeanour, and artificial speech pattern, you be forgiven for thinking that Becks was (an unnaturally beautiful, which she capitalizes on at more than one point) human woman.
    • In City of Shadows, Liam, Maddy and Sal later discover that they are more advanced support units, capable of feeling emotions but far less physically strong.
  • Back-to-Back Badasses: Frequently used, particularly in Day of the Predator, which takes a survival horror edge with the enemy being a pack of highly intelligent predatory dinosaurs. Justified, in that Becks is a robot and doesn't really have blind spots, so not having to worry about her back allows her better computation for what's in front of her. Also, in the finale of the book, she covers the backs Liam and the remaining castaways so they can reach the time portal in more of a 'Save yourself, I'll hold them back' gesture - Becks is not only physically tougher and faster than the children, but she also believes herself expendable.
  • Bad Future: It's constantly referenced that in the 2070s mankind is all but wiped out by the Kosong-Ni virus. Rashim is even close to witnessing it first hand.
  • Big Damn Heroes: At least one moment per book, when half the team is at its worst in some historical screw-up, the other half leaps into action back at the base to put things right. Later on in the series, this happens the other way round too.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sal, Rashim and Foster may be dead, but Liam stays with Bob and Becks and Maddy likely goes back to be with Adam.
  • Butterfly of Doom: The series is centred around stopping people from a seemingly hopeless future from changing the past. Only the odd book has no massive effect on the future due to something being changed in the past as its main plot.
    • In TimeRiders, Kramer tries to lead Hitler to victory and grab some glory for himself too. Kramer eventually goes insane and starts a nuclear war, leaving nothing but savage mutants on the planet.
    • In Day of the Predator, an assassin (later proven to be a Hitman with a Heart when he doesn't kill Chan) is sent to kill young Edward Chan, one of the biggest contributors to the invention of time travel. Thankfully, we see very little of the Bad Future that would occur.
    • In Doomsday Code, Liam finds himself in the middle of a History-changing battle. Time is in a state of flux until the battle is over.
    • In Eternal War, the Eternal War in question is the result of Abraham Lincoln not being around to win the American civil war.
    • In Gates of Rome, the Project Exodus team tries to overthrow the Roman Empire. Instead, everyone but Rashim is killed and Emperor Caligula uses the support units the team had as his personal bodyguards, leaving him to rule for far too long.
    • In City of Shadows, the team run into Jack the Ripper and figure out that they have to let him get away with his murders; he is actually an aristocrat, and the discovery of that would leave London in ruins.
  • Can't Take Anything with You: Originally, the team had to be underwater while time travelling to avoid taking a chunk of the concrete floor with them to the past, as well as... in their underwear. Rashim's method seems to avoid that, but they still can't bring anything modern.
  • Changed My Jumper: The Time Riders regularly bring improvised clothing that they hope represents the period on their journeys, but sometimes there's no chance to. Maddy wears a T-Shirt with the Intel logo on it when transported to a US Civil War battleground, and a soldier comments on how she can't be a spy since no spy would be stupid enough to wear a shirt reading "intelligence".
  • Chekhov's Gun: The seemingly insignificant teddy bear Sal remembers in Day of the Predator is later revealed to suspiciously be in the costume shop near the team's archway. Later, this is one of the key plot details when the team realise that they're support units.
  • Christmas Every Day: When the group are based in New York, they live in a time bubble that encases them in the 10th and 11th of September 2001 over and over again. Waldstein's logic was that nobody would notice any of their odd behaviours while such a drastic event was happening. Though ultimately, it did the opposite and made them extremely suspicious to the US government, who pursued them when they accidentally attracted their attention.
  • Chronoscope: Tachycons can be utilised to take a pinhole-like snapshot of any moment anywhere, past or future, for the group to view with their technology. It is risky and uncertain, but frequently used throughout the series.
  • Close-Enough Timeline: A frequent occurrence in the team's time fixes is that they can't correct the contaminations perfectly, namely preventing any trace of their existence being known, but they can correct the course of history. For example in The Eternal War, the group prevents Lincoln being run over by a stampede of horses before he can accomplish anything he did, but they can't prevent the horses from bolting in the first place, because they can't stop what made the problem occur: Joseph Olivera's clumsy and panicked dash back in time that ended with his body being fused with one of the horses, killing him and startling the rest.
  • Conqueror from the Future: Paul Kramer's ultimate goal in the first novel was to help Hitler in his conquests but eventually replace him.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: A common occurrence in the series. First a few small changes ripple through, then larger ones follow. The farther back the change happens, the longer the ripple will take to arrive.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: In the 2050s, humanity has damaged the ecosystem to the point that people have to survive on artifical food.
  • Giving Radio to the Romans:
    • Time Riders has a man intentionally travel back to 1941 a) to give Hitler a ton of future tech, b) to convince Hitler not to invade Russia and c) to take over Nazi Germany himself. In the end, Germany steamrolled most of Europe and a good deal of the USA in twelve years, with Russia and China next on the schedule. Hovercrafts and pulse rifles tend to give you an advantage.
    • This also happens in Gates of Rome. Project Exodus, launched from the 2070s, involved aiding the Roman Empire in changing history for the better with guidance from the future, firepower, hover boards and the most advanced support units ever created. Unfortunately, that backfired when the Romans decided to ditch the help and just keep the tech.
  • Godwin's Law of Time Travel: Justified in the first book: Paul Kramer intentionally changes history to ensure that Germany wins WW2 because he believes that this will prevent the Bad Future that he grew up in. Unfortunately, he goes insane fifteen years into his reign as the new ruler of Germany and sets off a doomsday device, resulting in The End of the World as We Know It. Thankfully, this is fixed by the end of the book.
  • Historical Domain Crossover: The team are joined by the likes of Abraham Lincoln and the apparent Robin Hood. However, they can't stay permanently.
  • Historical Person Punchline: The cast stay in a dingy basement in Victorian London, with an aggressive landlord assisted by a young man named Bertie. Sal confides in him and the two grow attached to each other. Bertie is actually H. G. Wells, and an entry from his journal is included in the end of The Mayan Prophecy written later in his life, in which he expresses disbelief in what he remembers of the Time Riders, but admits to using them as inspiration for "The Time Machine".
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Played quite straight in the first novel. While the technicalities aren't bad and Bob could probably have gone ahead and killed Hitler himself, he obviously shouldn't do so to disrupt the 'true' timeline, so they let him walk free.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: The series features the support units Bob and Becks, especially with Becks. While Liam is the leader of all field missions, it is invariably the support units who bail him out of trouble. They are both stronger than regular men, faster, and are able to process an obscene amount of tactical data in a second. Becks especially qualifies, as she doesn't have the sheer size or strength of Bob, but is no less ruthless and often seen as cruel or monstrous in her ability to dance all over the enemy, exploiting tropes like the Honey Trap. But both swear undying loyalty to Liam, and to start with are near-incapable of independent decisions - they don't just accept being the sidekick, they require it.
  • Joggers Find Death: In City of Shadows, a support unit kills a jogger to steal their clothes after arriving in New York.
  • The Middle Ages: The setting of The Doomsday Code, under the reign of Richard I.
  • Naked on Arrival: Averted. Prior to Gates of Rome, the team would have to time travel in their underwear then change into their clothes (carried in a waterproof bag they would later bury) when they got there. Rashim's displacement method avoids this completely.
  • Narnia Time: Liam can spend days, weeks, months or even years in the past while Maddy and Sal spent a few hours at most waiting to reopen a portal to bring him back.
  • No Ending: It's left to us to decide what happens to Maddy at the end of The Infintity Cage. She's given the choice to go anywhere in time alone. It's heavily implied she went to be with Adam in his time, but not outright said.
  • Orphaned Punchline: An almost certainly crude one appears in The Doomsday Code: "... and the pig says, 'If you seen the things I've seen your wife doin', you're tail'd be curly too!'", as told by a group of soldiers. Liam, accompanying them, doesn't get it. The soldier begins to explain, but an ambush prevents much elaboration.
  • Recruit Teenagers with Attitude: Played with. The main cast are all thirteen to nineteen, as one would expect from this trope and teen to young adult fiction generally. However, they were chosen because it was known exactly when and where they were to die, and invariably dying in such a way that the body could not be recovered, enabling them to be snatched from the jaws of death easily. Also, all three had skills well suited to the tasks they would perform in the group - initiative, data-mining and a keen eye for tiny changes in detail. They also take a hulking great combat unit along on missions for when tactical evaluation or martial prowess are required. They are also purpose built organic robots who are slightly more resilient than ordinary humans anyway, and thanks to Liam's time in the past on missions he's closer to twenty by now and pushing the definition of 'teenager'.
  • Ripple Effect Indicator: The three teenage main characters police the timeline, living through the same two days (9-10-2001 through 9-11-2001) in a loop. One of them, Sal, is responsible for walking around the city of New York during the days before and of 9/11 attacks, checking everything for changes caused by the Ripple Effect. Due to them living in a time bubble, they all have Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Liam, Maddy and Sal upon realising that they are support units, artificial humans not far removed from Bob or Becks.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Kramer, who attempted to avert the horrific wars and environmental damage caused in the latter days of the 21st century, through the use of time travel to create an empire using the forces of Nazi Germany.

Alternative Title(s): Day Of The Predator, Gates Of Rome, The Doomsday Code, City Of Shadows