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J. M. Surra

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Angels and Their Hourglasses
by J. M. Surra   

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Publisher:  Quixotry Type: 


Copyright:  March 2011 ISBN-13:  9780983464709

Author J.M. Surra Official website

A young man is transported back to 1929 by a surly angel and tasked with correcting historical errors.

Stranded in 1929, a time traveler struggles to convince a sleepy country that America must prepare to defend itself against its friends, the Japanese, in 1941.

Eighty years in the past, Ben Ryan must start again. He learns to live and love, and he plans for a future nobody wants to hear about. Then he meets Howard Hughes, who believes him and forms a consortium comprised of fellow industrialists. They prepare in every way they can without the backing of the US government.

The Japanese learn of their efforts, and move up their plans to attack Pearl Harbor in December 1939, two years earlier than the original history. The consortium learns this, but they're still short of planes, supplies, and pilots.

Is their hard work all for nothing?

The race is on.


Angels and Their Hourglasses

A novel by
J.M. Surra

Chapter One

Archangels settled matters with swords. That’s just how it was. That’s how they were built. When the battles of biblical legend ended, the battle-hardened seraphs could only hope for assignments that suited their nature. Many tasks could be found. Humans are a busy lot, and there are no unemployed archangels. All too often, the match was a round hole and a square peg.
The garden’s original intent had long since fallen by the wayside. Humans, designed with the intelligence to do great things, and placed lovingly on a garden planet with everything they would ever need to live in bliss, chose instead to embrace war. The killing continued, and wars grew bloodier by the century.
Warriors themselves on a celestial scale, archangels remained unaffected by the relatively minor spectacle of human wars. They understandably were unable to equate war with tragedy. And so, their presence made little difference.
One quiet, reserved individual dwelt among them. This archangel, once held in wide renown for healing, wisdom, and teaching, had experienced a number of difficult centuries because of the humans.
As slowly and surely as the drops of water from a cavern ceiling will form a monumental stalagmite, a cynicism of humans and human nature formed in his mind. Eons upon eons passed before the moment arrived. When it did, he decided that the humans had lost their capacity to learn. From that day on he avoided them, eschewed and disdained them, wanted as little to do with them as possible. He hardened himself and turned away.
Sadly, he didn’t realize–he had forgotten–that he was the best-equipped of his kind for the assignment, the only archangel created for that purpose: a sublime creation, most cherished by his maker, and unique; like an author’s inspired passage or unexpected timeless line, a treasured masterpiece among works of great beauty.
And for all of that, fragile beyond description.
He had lost sight of his own past. A past of enlightenment. The majesty of the written word, his quill, his passion for imparting wisdom and knowledge; these were once his mightiest weapons. Mightier still when wielded with a characteristic now scarcely evident–perhaps his greatest attribute–his compassion for humanity.
Summoned by his maker, he knelt, looking not up into the face of his creator, but downward, silent and surly, sure of what was to come.
“You are here with me, yet you are not. Why is this?”
“I am here as you commanded, Father. What is your bidding?”
“I bid you look into my eyes, dear one. Is this so much to ask of you?”
Slowly, the angel’s head lifted, and his sullen eyes met his creator’s. “As you wish.”
“You turned away on your last assignment. This is the third time. Have you forgotten who you are? Have you forgotten the importance of what you do?”
“What difference does it make, Father? The humans forget their teachings. In all your names, they kill one another. They do not deserve your love,” he said, his voice flat and morose.
Disturbed, the maker’s eyes flashed, and his voice rumbled like threatening thunder. “Now you decide who deserves my love?” A moment later a sigh of disappointment was heard through the rumble. “You leave me no choice. You need to remember who you are. You will take this assignment. You will attend. You will watch from the first moment to the last, and you will not turn away. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Father. I will watch, and I will not turn away, from the first moment to the last,” he said, bowing his head before he rose and turned to leave, taking for granted his privileged status. For only an archangel would dare to turn his back in the presence of the creator of all things.
Remember who I am? What is that supposed to mean? This assignment is nothing more than a punishment. Depending upon humans for anything was a mistake. Charged with one, and then another, time after time he had watched them fail. Now, he was assigned to yet another young one. How much could this one possibly know? What difference could he make? Wasted effort, that’s what this is; time that could be better spent elsewhere.
It was no use. His was not to question why (though question he did). He had his orders and would follow them. With a decided lack of enthusiasm, he set about making the preparations for his assignment.

Chapter Two

June 20th, 2010 – The Lodge at Moosehead Lake - Greenville, Maine
It wasn’t that he didn’t love her. Ben had loved Katie Lynn since he was eighteen, from the first moment he met her, six years ago. He couldn’t imagine life with anyone else. The prospect of marrying her exhilarated him. At least, it had until recently. He couldn’t put his finger on just why he avoided all talk of marriage, but for months he’d done just that. An ominous feeling beset him each time he thought about it, a feeling that a storm was coming. Not like the days Gramps felt his bunions kicking up, or when the grass and trees moved around more than they should; those told him to expect some wind and rain. This was a feeling like no other; it made his teeth grind. It twisted his stomach into a knot.
Though he wouldn’t say so, it terrified him.
For his birthday, she’d insisted on a weekend trip to Maine so they could talk it out. The Lodge at Moosehead Lake was a wonderful place to relax and unwind, and their room–the Moose room–was a delicious combination of rustic, cozy and romantic. That, and her persistence, made the getaway successful. Now, their wedding plans were back on, but their weekend was rapidly drawing to a close.
Pleading puppy-dog eyes followed her. “You have to leave?”
She felt herself waver, but said, “You know I have to get back to school. It’ll take me a few hours to get back to Framingham,” then she whispered, “You know I love you, sweetheart.” She softly kissed him, leaned her forehead against his for several moments before she forced herself to climb into the car, and then said, “I’m going to miss you.”
As she drove away, he breathed, “I already miss you.”
Outside Ryan Aviation’s hangar at the small Greenville airport, he fueled his plane and performed a thorough pre-flight. The magnificent antique 1938 Waco biplane was ship-shape, as expected, so he filed his flight plan for Springfield and climbed in. Tucked between the gauges on the dash, in imitation of many World-War II pilots, he had Katie Lynn’s photo. He kissed two fingers and gently pressed them to her photo. A few minutes later he was airborne.
Such magnificent weather. He loved taking deep breaths of the cool, sweet mountain air. He never failed to find inspiration in the azure of a Maine summer sky.
An hour or so had passed when a nagging feeling of apprehension gnawed at him. Looking around, he saw only fluffy clouds; he was alone in the vast blue sky. Whatever it actually was, storm or not, it wouldn’t hurt to keep a weather-eye out. When he passed the two-hour mark, Manchester laid in his wake and to his left; he was on the home stretch for Springfield.
The eerie feeling of impending danger swept through him again, but this time much stronger; he grew anxious, on-edge. Quick glances all around revealed nothing but blue sky and small, fluffy clouds, same as before. The radial engine continued to run flawlessly, and its distinct throaty sound bore resonant witness to it. The beautiful white and red Waco showed perfect pressures and temps on all the gauges. But he couldn’t shake it.
Leaning out and looking the bipe over from front to back, he saw nothing out of order. As he wondered whether he might have something wrong with him, he sensed an ominous presence behind him. He chided himself for being so jumpy; but as he wasn’t far from Manchester International’s heavy air traffic, he took one more glance just to prove to himself that nothing was there.
The entire sky behind him and extending to the east was now filled with a massive dark cloud, either black or devoid of light, and sinister in appearance, rolling and moving fast… straight at him.
He stared at it, uttering a string of expletives. Three minutes ago, the sky was clear. Yet there it was, a mammoth cloud, too close, and gaining on him at a phenomenal rate. Worse yet, he recognized it.
Twice before, on his trip up from Springfield, a similar cloud had appeared at a distance; as though stalking him, waiting for the right moment.
No longer stalking him, it was now bearing down upon him like a freight train, and fright momentarily seized him. Twisting, roiling blacks and browns laid a stark, frightening background for the strange, ball-shaped, blinding lightning bursts tearing across it; yet for all the lightning, there were no familiar cragged tentacles reaching for the ground. Like a set of massive, churning rollers from an antique washing machine, the unearthly cloud pulled in everything in its path. Sheets of metal roofing, old barns, trees and telephone poles were ripped from the earth and devoured as it gained velocity; and it moved with a singular, horrifying, dreadful purpose. The inconceivable entity wasn’t alive; he knew it didn’t have a brain, yet there could be no mistaking its purpose. He somehow knew beyond all doubt that it was coming for him.
Tearing his eyes away, he acted. Banking the plane hard right, he dove to the southwest, trying to coax enough speed from the graceful old girl to elude the monster. The Waco was powerful and aerobatic, but she wasn’t built for extreme speeds, so he tried to travel far enough to put a safe distance between himself and the terrifying, voracious cloud. Glancing back over his shoulder to check his progress, he felt the blood in his veins flow cold as ice.
The storm cloud had changed course. Impossibly, it had pursued him, moving faster yet. Behind and now even above him the sky was gone, consumed by the screaming banshee that filled his entire field of vision. His stomach churned and tightened into knots. He banked southward but it was clear he’d never make Springfield, and no way could he survive this monster in the air. Out of options, he pointed the nose down and dove hard, willing the ancient biplane to gain all the speed she could, heading for the ground to find a place to land, any place at all. If he could reach that pasture below, maybe he could wedge it in between some trees. He prayed he would make it.
Four hundred feet above the pasture, the storm snatched the Waco up as easily as a vacuum cleaner would suck up a small toy.

End of excerpt

Professional Reviews

Angels and Their Hourglasses
A 5-Star Review from
The Kansas City Book Examiner

If you could use the knowledge you have today, think what you might share with people who lived fifty, a hundred or more years ago. Would people listen and learn? Could you effect a positive change? These questions must have fascinated author JM Surra. The son of a WWII airplane mechanic, he grew up with an inherited love of planes.

In Angels and Their Hourglasses, Ben's love of early aviation history is nourished by his grandfather. At the end of a "marriage talk" weekend with Katie Lynn, Ben takes off in his 1938 Waco biplane. A massive black storm cloud soon chases him through the skies. Unable to dodge or outrun it, Ben's plane is tossed around and crashes into a field.

He awakes in the dark to throbbing pain and confusion. Finding his plane scattered around him, he tries to get up and faints. The second time, a voice wakes him, "Easy, now. You're hurt..." At first, Ben recognizes neither the men gathered round him nor his surroundings.

The man speaks, "I would say that introductions are in order...My name is Zantford. Zantford Granville."

Ben grew up with his grandfather's stories...tales about the Granville brothers and other pioneers of aviation. He knows the brothers well. What he doesn't know is how he could have ended up in 1929.

Surra mixes real and fictional characters, time travel and actual historical events in this exciting novel. He brings the characters and the time period to life, and makes it easy to believe that Ben's story could happen. It's a treat to see another perspective to characters we know from our time frame only - people like Jimmy Doolittle and Howard Hughes.

Ben is a believable hero torn between his old life and the beloved history of his new life.

With seemingly insignificant changes, Ben changes history. It's a great journey for the reader's imagination. From flights of fancy to serious ponderings, the story lends itself from simply a good read to a deeply introspective "what-if."

The Kansas City Book Examiner

Reviewed by Pat McGrath Avery
Author of "Murder is for the Birds" & "Murder Takes a Ride"

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