“Time Trap” by Rog Phillips (Atlas Publications, 1956)

ATLAS Time Trap
Time Trap” by Rog Phillips in the Science Fiction Library series, # 8, as published by Atlas Publications, 1956 in Melbourne, Australia

The first edition of TIME TRAP by Rog Phillips was originally published 1949 in America and featured cover art by Malcolm Smith.

A year later, the book was reprinted in Canada by Export Publishing via their News Stand Library Pocket Edition series, with a bland cover.

Seven years later (after the original) Malcolm Smith’s illustration resurfaced on the Australian edition (featured here). Unlike the American edition, the Aussie version is quite scarce.

It is part of the Science Fiction Library, via Atlas Publications. The series ran only eight titles from 1955-1956, and reprinted from American or British sources. Rather than paperbacks, these are side-stapled digests.

The titles (and original sources) in the series are as follows:

1 – The Echoing Worlds by Jonathan Burke, 1955
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1953)
2 – World at Bay by E. C. Tubb, 1955
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1954)
3 – From What Far Star? by Bryan Berry, 1955
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1953)
4 – Worlds in Balance by F. L. Wallace, 1955
Original publication (USA: Science-Fiction Plus, May 1953 – pulp magazine)
5 – Another Space, Another Time by H. J. Campbell, 1956
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1953)
6 – The Stars Are Ours by H. K. Bulmer, 1956
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1953)
7 – And the Stars Remain by Bryan Berry, 1956
Original publication (UK: Panther Books, 1952)
8 – Time Trap by Rog Phillips, 1956
Original publication (USA: Century Book # 116, 1949)

Without further rambling, let’s turn to the story itself, shall we…?

The tale opens with two radio-engineers working on a scientific device that permits them to “dial” into the future. Our primary protagonist is Ray Bradley, and his partner and close friend is Joe Ashford. Ray dials a phone operator whom immediately recognizes him as someone that had once prior called. Ray then, as now, with Joe as witness, asks the operator what today’s date is. She proclaims the date to be 1961, but asks first if he is the same person that called two years ago (in 1959). Ray and Joe’s current date is 1950.

Intrigued by the device’s possibilities, Joe suggests Ray phone their own number, and sets it to dial 24-hours into the future. Oddly enough, they learn that the number has been disconnected!

Disconcerted, he sets the dial for approximately 50 years into the future, and instead of the sensually young female operator, receives a male voice. Ray asks him what the date is, to which he receives 1999, and then coyly adds the “time.” But, when the operator flips the question back on Ray, chuckling, he provides the precise date and time as well. At that exact moment, in his head, he hears a female voice screaming for him to vacate the premises immediately, that his life is in imminent danger.

Without a seconds’ forethought, he orders Joe out and they flee. Moments later, the entire building explodes and debris smites cars and pedestrians, causing immediate havoc and destruction.

Ray and Joe abandon the scene, hop into a street dive, play music on the nickelodeon, and discuss the matter. More importantly, Ray stresses a female in his head issued the strident warning. Joe is impressed by Ray’s attitude, regarding the faceless entity, and realizes that Ray, without ever meeting or seeing this girl, is somehow in love with a voice that he received via telepathy.

Later, at home, while trying to sleep, he again is in contact with the girl, whom gives her name to be Nelva. She asks him to explain his device to her, and, with her assistance, she explains how to expand upon his rudimentary knowledge and create an actual time machine. Informing him to act quick and maintain anonymity, he and Joe vanish and after some experiments, travel to 1999. Unfortunately, they arrive days later than planned, but that is unavoidable.

While walking the streets, they find that not much has changed, and, clothing styles of the 1950s are apparently once more fashionable, to the point that they practically blend in. They later learn that while the styles are identical, the clothing materials are vastly outdated. While entering a store, they are immediately entranced by a sinister, beautiful blonde vixen depicted on the wall with a third eye. Staring at it leads to their undoing. Everyone else knows better than to stare and they are immediately spotted as either outsiders or rebels. Fleeing from the store, Ray and Joe find themselves briefly and frighteningly alone, but this soon changes as the police force their way in. Remarkably, they are whisked away into a secret panel behind the telephone booth (good thing these still existed in 1999, eh?) and run down a secret passageway.

Winding their way with this unknown helper, they are led eventually to a hideout and interrogated. Nobody believes that they are time-travelers, so they are forced to swallow truth-serum pills. While under, they confess the same, again, and those about them believe. They are further staggered to learn that Ray is searching for Nelva, whom they claim has been missing for a long time. Believed to be captured by the Vargarians (the aliens in charge of the United States), Ray is all set to explore the city and set her free.

However, he begins to develop ideas that the resistance is a false-front, and that they are actually in cahoots with the Vargarians. (And because the author lacks any ability to surprise the reader, Ray is naturally quite right.) Furthermore, daily, he fails to find or get in contact with Nelva. On his own initiative, he convinces the gathering to loan him a car so that he and Joe can explore the countryside, claiming that Nelva had in fact telepathically got into communication with him, and said to meet with Joe, alone, far away.

The faux-rebels report this to the Vargarians, and they suspect it is a false lead, but decide to let matters play out, and wonder just what the pair are up to.

While driving aimlessly, Ray decides to pull into a road-stop and grab a bite. Joe is the driver, and while parking, another car rolls up and disgorges a half-dozen youths. Stumbling in after them, Ray purposefully staggers against Joe and steals the car keys. Believing the car to be “bugged,” Ray decides to prey upon the kids somehow and unload the car, to lead the bad guys on a false trail.

Ironically, the youths are the faux-rebels, too. Set to track the pair, they decide to snatch the car from Ray and Joe, but the plan goes off without a hitch, admirably, for both parties. When one of the party approaches Ray, he stammers that he’s bored with the group and wants to borrow his wheels for a joy ride with his girlfriend. Ray obliges and the swap is effected! Ray is elated and the guy is nonplussed by the ease of the transaction.

Pretending to look about at the other dining occupants, Ray decides to falsely feign interest in two girls dining in a booth, but, despite never having seen them before, realizes immediately one staring at him is Nelva!

Sitting down with them, Ray expresses gruffly that they need to leave, they are in immediate danger. Nelva’s firmly aware of this, touches them, and the four vanish just as the faux-rebels jump up and turn their stun-rods on the quartet.

The novel then shifts to Nelva and Ray discoursing on the theories of time travel, multi-dimensional shifts, and the history of the Vargarian race being actually from another time stream from millions of years in the past. Furthermore, she and her friend, Nancy, are sisters, and related to the Queen.

But, asks Ray, why do they lack the third eye?

Sorry, my readers, but, I won’t cough up ALL the details. Go out and read the book yourself. Some mysteries you’ll have to discover the answers to you, yourself. I will say that the girls eventually slide into other parallel streams and Ray and Joe are subjugated to two surgeons whom attach wires in their skulls to allow them full access to all realms. The story rapidly comes to an absurd climax with Ray threatening the Queen with removal of all Vargarian’s third eye, unless they remove themselves back into their own time stream.

Fearing his threat, since he made a fine example of one Vargarian, the Vargarians flee en mass and, taking flight, the armada of ships vanish from the site, traveling back in time to their own era and time-stream. Some whom have chosen to remain, even with the loss of the third eye, do choose to do so, as do Nelva and Nancy. Nelva suggests that the four travel and explore the entire time and space, but Ray suggests they marry, first….

A fun novel, from start to finish, bogged only down by the technical jargon involving the explanations of various time theorems, time travel, dimensions, etc. Plus, and this may be just my personal perspective, but, I was baffled by how “juvenile” the entire novel felt. In fact, not just juvenile, but, “dated.” If I had never known it was printed in 1949, I’d have guessed it was written during the 1910s or 1920s. The novel honestly feels like a much earlier, unpublished pulp project that languished for several decades until Rog had more firmly established himself as a competent writer.

I would love to hear from other members of fandom or collectors, as to their thoughts on Rog Phillips’ “Time Trap.”

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“Time Trap” by Rog Phillips (Atlas Publications, 1956)

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