“Last Year” by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, 2016)


“Two events made the first of September a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant.” The opening lines to bestselling author Robert Charles Wilson’s latest book, Last Year, do what many of his past books have done: they make you stop and think and consider this what if: why are expensive modern day sunglasses being used in the same context as a president from the late nineteenth century?

It is the not too distant future where humanity has sort of discovered time travel, except it’s limited time travel, using special giant mirrors that can take people and things back to a certain point in the past, but not too distant past. The mirror is only “open” for a limited time to reduce the risk of the past learning and gaining too much from the future. It’s a great draw for tourism, the “opportunity of a lifetime.” And for those living in the past, they get to see what the future looks like.

Jesse Cullum is a man of the nineteenth century working in the specially constructed city for the people of the future. In a bold move that he does more out of reflex, he takes down a man looking to assassinate the president, and finds his world changed. He is promoted and becomes a member of a special investigative team looking to protect the president and other important people, as well as get to the bottom of a smuggling ring that is bringing important items from the future back to the past and selling them on the black market, including guns like the one the man was using to assassinate the president.

Much as Robert J. Sawyer’s Red Planet Blues was a noir detective novel set on Mars, Last Year is a gripping time travel novel with a noir detective story at its heart. Time travel stories have been done in many shapes and forms, which is why Wilson’s book offers a new angle on the whole time travel idea with something a little different, along with real and interesting people and a controversial central plot.

Originally written on March 15, 2017 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Last Year from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Time Traveler’s Almanac” Edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (Tor, 2014)

Time Traveler's Almanac
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If you’re any sort of fan of time travel, whether it’s Back to the Future, H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, or even Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; or perhaps you enjoy discussing, debating and at times lambasting the possibility and impossibility of time paradoxes; then you need to get yourself a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac.

Well-known editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer do a magnificent job of grouping the many time travel stories together into categories, and breaking them up with nonfiction articles on different aspects of time travel. The greats are of course included in this fantastic anthology, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, H. G. Wells, George R. R. Martin and Ursula K. LeGuin. But there is also a plethora of other, lesser known authors all with their own individual and unique stories on time travel.

There’s the one about a person who travels through time in New Delhi seeing its many forms and the variety of inhabitants throughout its history. The story about a cheap, wonderful apartment in a fancy area of San Francisco, the catch is you have to live in it in the past. One of the most moving stories is “Red Letter Day” set in a world where you receive a letter from your future self on the day of your graduation about how you should lead your life; and what it means for those who don’t receive a letter.

The Time Traveler’s Almanac features 70 stories and has a little bit of everything that can be sampled slowly over time – as I did – or gobbled up as quickly as possible. You’ll be taken to many different worlds, in different times, and no one will be like the other.

Originally written on February 11, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Time Traveler’s Almanac from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“A Bridge of Years” by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor, 2011)

Bridge of Years
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Bestselling author Robert Charles Wilson’s book, A Bridge of Years, recently re-released in paperback, has an interesting play on the idea of time travel, but remains true to its “rule” that there are always repercussions when one plays around with time travel, even when someone thinks they’ve been given a second chance.

Tom Winter has made a right old mess of things, now without a job and a wife who’s left him; he’s hit rock bottom.  With some leftover inheritance money he buys a simple little house in the secluded Pacific Northwest, looking to just get away from things for a while, and try to figure his life out.  The only problem is the simple house he bought turns out to be a prime example of real estate where everything isn’t as it seems or should be.  It begins minutely with his unclean plate with a few leftovers that he leaves by the sink overnight; in the morning it has been licked clean by something.

At first he thinks it’s nothing, but it keeps on happening and he tries to film it but the camera mysteriously shuts off during the filming.  Then there’s the weird sounds he keeps hearing, like little machines zooming around his house; a flickers of minute movement out of the corner of his eye.  Then in the basement he discovers an extra room that leads to a tunnel that takes him back to another time and another place: 1963, New York City.

Wilson has fun playing around with time travel in this short novel, building the mystery and setting up a far more complex story than readers will be expecting.  As to the answer of what is eating the leftover food and why, it is both gruesome and shocking, but at the same time makes perfect sense.

Originally written on April 9, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of A Bridge of Years from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall” by Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications, 2012)

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In Nancy Kress’ short, new science fiction novel she combines two very interesting subjects for the genre – time travel and ecological disaster – weaving the story together from three different timelines.  After the fall takes place in 2035 when the world is in a very different place environmentally; before the fall is 2013 when the minor events that will become devastating are just beginning; and during the fall is in 2014 as the events are happening beneath the surface of the planet.

The future is told from the viewpoint of 15 year-old Pete, who is living in the Shell with the others of the Six.  Each of them will eventually get sick and die in this ravaged world.  They aren’t allowed outside and their anger for the Tesselies who created all this grows daily.  Their only hope is passing through a time portal into the past where they kidnap children to keep their population alive.

Meanwhile, in 2013 things are just starting to turn bad for the planet, though no one really knows or comprehends this yet, except for one brilliant mathematician, Julie Kahn, who has been working on her algorithms for the FBI, charting these recent strange child kidnappings and trying to predict when and where the next one will occur.  She is also pregnant herself and can imagine how terrible this would be for the parents.

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall seems like an experimental book that doesn’t quite reach the correct solution in what it was trying to do.  The separate timelines are interesting, but feel rushed and limited in the confines of the short book, making Kress’ original intention with the book not completely clear.  Nevertheless, the story is definitely an interesting one that makes the reader think and wonder.

Originally written on May 14, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“11/22/63” by Stephen King (Scribner, 2011)

11/22/63
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In Stephen King’s latest tome, weighing in at almost 850 pages, the master of horror takes on a whole new sub-genre that he hasn’t really dealt with before: time travel. What’s interesting is while playing around with time travel can be a lot of fun for a while, King sticks to simple rules, and has more fun in making 11/22/63 more of an excellent work of historical fiction.  The date — November 11th, 1963 — is one burned in many people’s minds, especially if they were alive and old enough at the time to remember where they were the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

Jake Epping is a thirty-five year old high school teacher living in Lisbon Falls, Maine.  He enjoys his simple life, conveying to kids not just the beauty of the English language, but discussing and enlightening the teenagers with some of the great works of literature.  In the opening of 11/22/63, the reader learns about Harry Dunning’s past life.  Dunning is an adult student who got his high school diploma a while ago; Jake still has that very special essay Dunning wrote.  It wasn’t grammatically correct, and was filled with spelling errors; but it was also the story of the day Dunning’s father came home drunk, when he was a child, and brutally murdered his mother, sister and brother with a hammer, while Dunning barely made it out alive with his life, suffering a smashed leg.

It was a moving story that Jake has never forgotten.  He enjoys his days after school going to see his friend Al, who owns a local diner, where he enjoys one of the most delicious burgers on the planet, and the amazing thing about it is he hasn’t raised his prices in decades.  A customer can still enjoy a burger with fries for the ridiculously cheap price of under $3.  It seems like something Jake should be suspicious about, but the burgers taste too damn good.  The following day Jake meets up with Al again and finds him to be a changed man, incredibly aged overnight and he looks like he’s dying; that’s when Al tells him his story.

In the back of his diner is a portal to 1958.  Al himself has been back a number of times, and each time he comes back through it to the present, everything resets.  He’s narrowed everything down to one important event he believes will change everything: the assassination of JFK.  He tried once, spending five years back then, but it didn’t work.  Now it’s up to Jake.  And just to prove that anything is possible, Jake’s first mission is going to be to go back and stop Dunning’s father from killing his family.

11/22/63 isn’t a time travel science fiction novel, it’s a historical fiction novel that features time travel; kind of like how The Time Traveler’s Wife was a love story involving time travel.  And while the time travel is an entertaining facet of this novel, it is the moving story of the past, of the 1950s and early ‘60s, the lives of some incredible characters, and the work of one man’s detailed effort to prevent one of the most infamous moments in American history.  King has outdone himself with some immense research, immersing the reader in the feel of this time period, in the minutiae of everyday life for some people living in Texas.  And as the reader reads further into the book, he or she can’t not notice the details of this world, and how different it is to our modern one.  The result is a moving story with powerful characters and an insight into a way of life many of us have never experienced, making it one of King’s most important works of his career.

Originally written on December 28, 2011 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of 11/22/63 from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Christopher Golden (Spectra, 2008)

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Christopher Golden has established himself as a talented writer within the horror genre. In The Boys Are Back in Town, he tells an incredible story, one that reminds readers there are still great books being written that will suck you in from the first page, and make you want to shut off from your life and commitments until you get to that last page.

Will James is in his late twenties and while he hasn’t necessarily managed to follow his dreams, he is a journalist working for a newspaper and is happy with the life he has. He suffers suspicion from others due to his pursuit of the supernatural and any story involving magic. However, he considers it his job to debunk these people and reveal them as the frauds they are. The high point for his weekend is his ten-year high school reunion, which begins Friday night with a meeting with Stacy, a former friend who has become an interesting and beautiful woman. But when Will asks where his best high school friend Mike is, he is greeted with anger and furious stares, and a short while later memories surface of Mike dying in a horrific hit-and-run accident during their senior year. Will is confused, for he has vaguer memories – shadows in his mind – of knowing Mike through college and receiving an e-mail from him just the week before about coming to the reunion.

The next day at the Homecoming game, Will makes a comment to another close friend, Ashleigh, about the Homecoming Queen during their senior year, but then is corrected by her. She says that it was a different person because the girl was raped the night before. Before his eyes, Will watches Ashleigh visibly change, as she recounts how she was also raped, which is why she can’t have children. Will feels his mind splitting, since he recalls visiting Ashleigh and her husband last Christmas, and seeing their beautiful twins. He knows there is something very wrong going on here, not just someone playing a prank on him; someone is messing with his timeline, his reality, changing events. He has some ideas about who is involved, but he’s going to have to go back to the life of magic that he had deliberately forgotten; it will require using a spell that will take him back to his high school years. He’s going to have to stop whoever is doing this, whoever is rewriting history, and changing his life before his very eyes.

The Boys Are Back in Town will horrify and astound, as well as bring back memories of your high school era. Golden writes with a skill and emotion that brings these years to life on the page, while adding a deadly element – for memories are meant to stay the same, and are not supposed to change on the fly.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 1st 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Christopher Golden check out BookBanter Episode 12.