Arts

Armand Baltazar in Morgan Hill

Local author has published what may be the next great sci-fi franchise
An illustration from 'Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic.' Illustration by Armand Baltazar

It's a story that was originally intended for an audience of one. If all goes according to plan, it could evolve into a story for millions.

Armand Baltazar began the book project now known as Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic as a kind of answer to a challenge from his 11-year-old son, Diego.

But Baltazar was not your everyday suburban dad just trying to entertain his kid. As a visual artist in the movie industry, he had put together a résumé that included stints with DreamWorks, Disney and Pixar. In part because of those connections, Baltazar now has a deal in place with star producer and director Ridley Scott that could turn his book into a multiplex blockbuster.

Timeless is a big-ticket item in the publishing industry. On one level, it's an elaborate fantasy novel aimed at middle-school readers. But this one is different from scads of similar titles, thanks mainly to almost 200 meticulous illustrations that tip the book's total page count to well north of 600 pages.

"I can hold up a photo of myself from when [I started this project]," says Baltazar who took on the dual role as writer and illustrator. "All my hair is jet black and there's lots of it. Now, my hair is quite a bit thinner, and my beard is definitely salt-and-pepper. It's been an odyssey, but a wonderful one."

The book's secret sauce is a fresh take on the old sci-fi trope of time travel.

The whole Timeless saga—the author envisions at least three books in the franchise and possibly just as many movies—began years ago when Baltazar was working at Pixar. His son Diego put together a list of everything he thought was cool in the hopes that his dad might build a narrative around them.

"He liked giant robots and I thought, yeah, I could do that," remembers Baltazar. "And then he said he liked old World War II airplanes and dinosaurs. And, oh yeah, samurais are cool too. And then, it was 'Oh Dad, you know when Indiana Jones fought off the Nazis. That was awesome too.'"

Dad rolled his eyes a bit and explained the impracticality of shoehorning so many different elements into one cohesive story. So, Diego, perhaps knowing his dad a little too well, shrugged his shoulders and said, "What's the matter? You can't do it?"

Kids will often playfully throw down the gauntlet to a reluctant parent, but parents rarely answer as decisively as Baltazar did, by diving into the mind-bending puzzles of time-travel logic and emerging with a splashy book-and-movie deal.

Diego on the cusp of his 13th birthday when the story opens. Diego's dad is a prominent inventor who is kidnapped by a group of radicals in a world where everyone is from a different era—Diego himself is the product of a "mixed" marriage given that his mother and father are from different times. The kidnappers are led by a second-century Roman general and a scientist from the 2400s. Diego's confederates include a boy from the 1920s, a girl from the Victorian era, and another girl from 1984. They are helped along the way by a Civil War-era black man who escaped enslavement to fight for the Union. Together, they set off across the ocean to rescue Diego's dad and ultimately save the world.

In this story, time is a stand-in for geography in our world, in which everyone is judged by where they're from. Baltazar grew up in Chicago, the only Filipino kid in his school. And his own son came of age in California where he went to school among kids from a wide variety of backgrounds. The family now lives in the East Bay town of Pleasanton.

The parallels between cultural dislocation and time travel have long fascinated Baltazar. "A good friend of mine," he says, "he grew up in China but came to the United States when he was about 12 or 13. As a kid, he had seen exactly four movies in his entire life, all Charlie Chaplin movies. So then he comes to the U.S., in 1978, and the first thing he sees is 'Star Wars.' That right there is cultural time travel."

That dimension, the resonance with the contemporary world, is what Baltazar hopes gives his story power. "It's a simple adventure," he says. "It was never intended to be something political. But considering the world we live in now, it's the best way to tell a story, to tap kids on the shoulder and say, this is your world now."

Armand Baltazar
Apr 10, 4pm, Free
BookSmart, Morgan Hill
mybooksmart.indielite.org


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