Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Literally the Best Reviews: Last Year

Last Year - Robert Charles Wilson
Tor Books
352 Pages

Time travel or alternate universe novels are always among my favorites when I scan the shelves at the Lockport Library. As always, I love science fiction books, and Robert Charles Wilson ranks among my favorites. So when I saw Last Year on the shelf at the Buffalo Library, I ordered it into my home library in Lockport. Putting one of my favorite genres with one of my favorite authors, it seemed like a no-brainer to add to the reading list.

Imagine that time travel is possible, but it’s not like our classic thought of time travel. The past that people travel to is an alternate universe where the past of both worlds mostly match up until the point of convergence. The portals between the time periods can only maintain connection for a limited time before the future people get bored and the past people gain more future technologies to bring them closer to the reality their benefactors wished to escape. Around the portals, small cities pop up to cater to the visitors from the future. Locals find work in the “City of the Future” as entertainers for the eager time travelers. 

We start the novel as Jesse McCollum saves the life of President Ulysses S Grant and smashed his sunglasses that were a gift from the future. Jesse is one of the contemporaries around the portal in 1880s Ohio. As a trusted employee from the past, his bosses from the future give him an unprecedented job opportunity with the futures. Typically, they were kept separate in the job field.

In his new position, Jesse is  paired with a woman from the future with whom he starts to have feelings. When she leaves to go back home, he vows to get her back despite any feathers he might ruffle. Soon, his new job tracking down illegal contraband from the future is given added focus as he must determine whether to expose any secrets that may harm the people in charge of the portal. In the end, will he be able to win the love of Elizabeth?

The character of Jesse is well done. He is from the late nineteenth century, walking a fine line along the future with his occupation. He is written with just enough naivete and curiosity to propel him forward with his investigation and leads him to love in what could potentially be in all the wrong places. The reader wants him to succeed. 

Essentially, this book is a love story masquerading as a time travel story, but it isn’t a romance story that gets bogged down in the mush. There’s action and adventure with the love story kind of melting into the background. The time travel aspect is a little different from your typical fare and it does not dominate the story.

One of the ideas put forth in this novel is that the time travelers don’t really care what their actions have on the past. Since it is not their actual past, it seems like they feel timeline contamination doesn’t really matter. They make so secret that they’re time travelers, nor do they really care if the locals learn about the future, as long as it’s in their own discretion. 

Like the other Robert Charles Wilson novels that I’ve read, the author weaves social commentary into the narrative. What are the morals of introducing future technologies and ideas to people who are not quite as advanced? And then suddenly taking it away on a whim? Is it a violation of the Prime Directive? At any rate, I loved this book, as I have the others by Wilson that I’ve read.

If you’re looking for a time travel book that has action and adventure intertwined with a nontraditional type of time travel, Last Year might be the book for you. I loved the speculation of the impact of traveling in the past through the multiverse. It leaves so many options available to make great stories. I hope Wilson revisits some of the ideas put forth in this novel. I would, without a doubt, eagerly await such a book or books.

Craig Bacon would love to time travel and find out the truth to some of the mysteries in his family history. Or maybe the future to see if our society ever gets over all the petty bickering.