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This Time of Darkness Mass Market Paperback – March 14, 2003

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 10 - 15 years
  • Grade Level: 5 and up
  • Mass Market Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Starscape (March 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765345676
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765345677
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,897,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"With detail and suspense the author tells an exciting futuristic survival story which comments on power and class-ridden social structures." -Horn Book

"The author's careful attention to detail and her astute sense of timing make this a highly believable, highly readable story that, while frighteningly powerful, ends on a comforting note." -Booklist

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

It was day 157, and it was raining. Or at least Amy hoped it was. She could hear liquid running down the outside of the opaque wall. Of course a pipe could have broken up-level. They often did. The city was old.
"What are you staring at?" whispered Anita, who sat next to her.
"Ita;s raining."
Amy shrugged, intimidated by the older girl's lack of interest. "I'd like to see rain sometime…just to see what it's like."
"Who cares?" said Anita, who had no idea what rain was.
"That figures."
Triggered by their whispers, the nearest swung around and aimed in their direction. Its red light blinked a warning. The watcher had seen them talking.
"You will have two hours to complete this test," the computer whispered through its thousand tiny speakers. "Begin at the bell tone." The computer asked a question requiring a one-word answer. The student said the word and pressed the button for the next question. When the final question was answered, the student could either signal for review and hear the questions again, or shut the terminal off, thus recording the score. Technology had eliminated the desire.
Amy finished the test in twelve minutes. She made four deliberate errors. She did not signal completion but waited, head bent as if still working. She had learned it did not pay to attract attention.
The learning center in which she sat was the size of a football field, grimy yellow, low-ceilinged, windowless, and dimly lit. Around her sat a thousand students, ranging in age from ten to sixteen, each with an "A" name, each at a terminal unit precisely thirty-one inches from the next. The room smelled of unwashed bodies, stale food, and musty walls. Next door was learning center B, and next to that was C, and so on down the line, all the same.
Bored with hearing the same questions over again, Amy sat up and cautiously glanced around. She could see Anita's throat working as the girl struggled to verbalize thought. In front of Anita sat Axel, curled in his seat, hugging himself and rocking, his eyes glazed. If he could hear the computer's voice in his speaker he gave no sign of it; he never spoke; his hands never touched his terminal board.
Amy saw nothing wrong with his behavior. A lot of kids were like him. Sometimes she wished she could be like them, or like anyone but herself. At least they fit in. Anita found learning difficult. School absorbed her completely, instead of boring her as it did Amy. Axel could shut everything out from the moment he entered the learning center. Only the dismissal bell seemed to release him.
Amy was always aware of the boredom, of being shut in with the constant murmur of the instructor's voice in a thousand speakers, of the whispers and restless shifting of the students, and of the watcher's cameras. Sometimes she wondered what was wrong with her; no one else seemed to find fault with their life. Or if they did, they kept quiet about it. As she did. Maybe there were a lot of people like her, and she just never knew them. And maybe there weren't.
Propping her head on her left hand, she stared unseeingly at her screen while she passed the time daydreaming. Her favorite daydream was "going outside." She would imagine what it was like outside the city--a place with no walls and no ceilings, no hallways or ramps--maybe even no people--or less--
Halfway down the room she saw a boy get up and leave. A girl followed, then another boy. She waited for five more students to leave before shutting off her own terminal. Anita hissed, "Show-off," at her as she left. Axel stopped rocking and sat up.
In the control room the watcher frowned. By chance he had been watching Amy when she first looked up from her screen. Experience as well as instinct told him she had finished the test--which indicated too-quick comprehension.
He asked the computer for her life file: Age eleven, born on level nine, mother food prep tech, father unknown. No physical or mental dysfunctions. No record deviations. The only mark against the child was literacy. No record of who had taught her to read and write. Literacy was not an official crime, but it was an affectation of superiority which the government tried to discourage among the lower levels, since it often led to unacceptable behavior. He noted that corrective programming had brought her down to mid-normal and kept her there. Or had she kept herself there? That was a posibility; the too-bright could mimic normalcy.
The watcher weighted fact against instinct. Instinct won. He coded her file as that of potential troublemaker and returned to scanning in time to see Axel, the transfer from twelve, give his terminal a savage kick before running from the room. The exit camera saw Axel pause in the hall, looking for someone. In that unguarded moment the boy's expression changed from apathy to hope.
Perhaps the child was not going psycho but pretending? The watcher hesitated. In a job like this, one had to guard against paranoia. When these brats grew up and caused problems, the top levels could always say, "Why wasn't this spotted years ago?" and then his neck would be on the line. God, how he hated kids!
Axel caught up with Amy at the corner. An emergency car was coming, sirens screaming, the sound trapped and echoing against the low ceiling. Amy had stopped to put on her earguards. He touched her arm and, when she turned, smiled his sweet, sad smile. Then, as the noise got painfully loud, his eyes left hers and he seemed to retreat into himself. His lips began to move.
Thinking he was talking to her, she slid back an earguard and leaned closer; in the voice of a small child, he was singing a lullaby. "Rufus the Rabbit is going to sleep. Down in his burrow where silence is deep."
It was close and hot in the hall, but Amy shivered. She put her hands over his ears as tightly as she could and held them there until the siren was far down the hall.
It was hard to stand that way. The crowd was thick, and people jostled past the stationary little island formed by the pair. Some people bumped accidentally; others deliberately hit one child or the other and quickly disappeared in the crowd. Amy took blows for granted. She had been taught that people expressed their hostility or their need to touch in the hallways. It did not pay to stand still.
"Come on," she said, releasing him. "Let's go home." He didn't answer, but he had stopped singing, and his eyes focused again. She started across the corridor, and he followed.
"Why didn't you take the test?"
"Why should I?" he said. "That don't care what you know--so long as you don't cause problems."
Amy thought that over and decided there was some truth to it. Still, "If you don't answer some questions, even wrong, they notice you. And then you get special programming."
A nearby litter vac turned on just then, and the roar drowned her out. Loose garbage flew toward the suction screen, and Amy squinted against the dust. Axel's face went blank with the noise, and the corners of his mouth twitched.
"Why don't you wear your earguards?7r; she yelled over the roar.
"I don't have any."
She stared at him. "Why not?"
Two men brushed between them and nearly knocked them down. Neither pair looked at the other.
I don't know how to get them."
He was a little abnormal, she decided. Everyone knew how to get necessities. "You take your ID card to the depot, stand in line, put your card in the slot, tell the machine you want ear guards, and the ear guards come down the chute."
Axel looked at her for a moment and then at the pavement. The floor was cracked and rough here; litter had collected in the cracks, and he stepped over them with exaggerated care. But he didn't say anything.
The heavy scent of a fry shop filled the corridor, and Amy was distracted by her stomach's growl. She didn't really like deep-fried vegetable peelings, but they were hot and salty. Sometimes they were even crisp. And when she was hungry, she wished she could afford them. But it didn't pay to think about what you couldn't have.
"Do you have an ID card?"
Axel nodded. He looked scared.
He stopped walking and leaned against the wall. Amy hesitated before turning back to join him. "What's wrong?"
He didn't answer. After a few seconds she was tired of being jostled while she stood still.
"You're going to get your back all greasy from that filthy wall," she warned him. "Also roaches on you."
He jumped as if he had received an electric shock, turned and stared at the wall. It was sticky with years of grime. At least a dozen roaches clung there, antennae quivering as they fed. More were on the pavement.
"How do you live this way?" his voice was almost a whisper, and she had to ask him to repeat the question. "How can people stand it?" He looked as if he were going to be sick. "The noise and crowds and dirt--it's all dark and dirty!"
"It's like that everywhere," Amy said, puzzled, "everywhere I've ever been. Is it different on level twelve wasn't that far up--maybe she could go visit him.
"It's just as bad. Worse where I sleep."
Hope flickered out. "so why did you ask?"
"Because it's--" He cast a worried glance at the wall. "Can we talk while we walk?"
"Do you want to go get ear guards or not?"
"Yes. If you come with me."
"You do have your ID?"
"Come on then. The nearest depot's down this block."
The supply depot was crowded with long lines at every chute. Axel no more than stepped inside than he wanted out.
"We'll be here a long time," he said, edging toward the door. She grabbed him by the arm and saw his eyes were beginning to go blank. He was about to shut everything out. Her first impulse was to leave him there; then she remembered him singing when the siren went by.
She took his hand and held it. "I hate crowds, too," she said. "But we can stand it for as long as it takes."
"I'm O.K." he pulled free, then looked at her. "No, I'm not," he admitted and took her hand again. "Talk to me . It's easier if I don't have to think about where I am."
Amy didn't understand that remark but did as he asked. Sh...

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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See all 28 customer reviews
Back then, I must have read it over a dozen times.
I would recommend it to any young child, teenager, or adult.
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I am so happy this book is coming back into print!

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Shanshad VINE VOICE on January 24, 2004
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In a far-flung future, the people are told the air above is too polluted to breathe-there is nothing left on the surface anymore. All that exists is the crowded underground city. Eleven-year-old Amy has always been the curious sort, but she has learned to hide her curiosity-and the fact she can read-from the adults who watch her. Until a strange boy tumbles into her world, claiming he is from the outside-and together the two of them must uncover old secrets and new worlds.
This is a rollicking preteen SF tale by H.M. Hoover that I found back in the eighties and was one of my favorites. Though this was originally published in the eighties, Hoover's ability to conjure up a another kind of world, to tell the kind of stories that speak to the reader and spark their imagination still shines through-so it's unsurprising that so many of her books are being reprinted for a new generation of young readers to discover and enjoy. Hoover herself confesses in her bio that she wrote the kind of stories she enjoyed reading as a child-what better way to capture an audience? THIS TIME OF DARKNESS encapsulates the idea of a strange, oppressive future society with appealing preteen protagonists. Readers journey with them as the discover the way out of the darkness, but will the watchers allow them to find freedom and hope in the world?
Many will want to pick this book up out of nostalgia-having read this when they were kids-to revisit the story they remember, and maybe to share with their children who are just encountering science fiction for the first time.
This story is perfectly tailored to its audience, and while some of the future technology may feel a little dated since publication, the overall themes hold up well, and deliver their message of hope and perseverance admirably.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful A Kid's Review on June 13, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is one of those stories that makes you think, "What if? If this world were REAL, would I be like a mindless, robotic moron?". I, for one, enjoyed this story of a futuristic, overpowered government of "authorities" that tries to control the citizens' knowledge. The main characters of the book, Amy and Axel, have dared to defy the somewhat ridiculous stipulations of the seemingly omniscient, omnipotent "authorities".
Sypnosis: (I might give too much of the plot away! Sorry!)
Ten-year-old Amy lives in a large underground city. (But, believe me, she has no idea that it is underground.)
"The City" as everyone knows it, is overpopulated and disgusting. Filthy, roach-infested, it's a wonder anyone can stand it. But the inhabitants have no idea there is anything better.
Told that all "levels" of the city are the same, they have no desire to even visit one level from their home. They move around like robots, the children going to "training dorm" to learn a "skill" (things like how to make the City's uniform thong sandals or pipe repair). Women do not even have babies just because they want to have children. Instead, they have them during "Baby Bonus" years, so they can get promotions. People are discouraged from reading, because they claim books are "sanitary hazards" and besides, all the signs are explanatory pictures. (The real reason, you will find out later in the book.)
Amy goes about her same boring routine, but she remembers the "Level 80" stories of her childhood. Longing for something different, possibly something she read about (yes, Amy is literate) she talks with the strange boy from her class, Axel. Axel claims to come from the outside.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I first read this book when I was 10 years old (some 16 years ago) and still count it as one of my all time favorites. A grot plot, complete with conspiracies, pre-adolescent sexual tensions, issues with authority, and political mystery make this an excellent semi-sci-fi thriller for any age. A reprint is a moral imperative.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Orianna VINE VOICE on November 11, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I first read this as a child, and it was one of several books that really made an impression on me. Every couple of years I would hunt it down through the local library, and it never lost its impact, even reading it as an adult! Finally, through Amazon, I was able to buy it for myself, and it will always have a place of honor on my bookshelf.

The story may have been labeled for young adults, but don't let that stop you from reading it! The writing is excellent, the plot is intriguing and moves swiftly. The ideas presented are thought-provoking and will have you thinking about the book long after you've finished it.

It's vaguely science fiction, set on a futuristic Earth, in a crowded, self-contained city -- one with no sunlight, no grass, no flowers, no beauty, no hope. Intelligence is frowned upon, reading is forbidden, life has little meaning. Then a boy appears and claims to have come from somewhere else, somewhere with bright sunlight and wide open spaces! Only one girl believes him, and together they set out to escape the dismal walls of her city, to find the impossible freedom of his home. Along the way they make some startling discoveries about the world they live in and the choices their ancestors made.
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