Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Many books on the emotional legacy of time travel (ex. Audrey Niffenneger's The Time Traveler's Wife or Octavia Butler's masterpiece Kindred) do so by employing time slippage rather than a well-built rationale for accomplishing controlled time travel (think the classic H.G. Wells The Time Machine or in a more modern example, Doctor Who's adventures in the Tardis). Mike Chen's Here and Now and Then allows us to have it all. We meet Kin Stewart, a time traveling secret agent whose work for the Temporal Corruption Bureau in 2142 exploits creating small variations, akin to the butterfly effect, that will hopefully create larger positive changes (such as making a senator late for casting a vote, or having someone unavailable for an investment meeting) on the day that his life goes sideways. His target won't cooperate and his 2100's era tech is taken out with a simple gunshot, stranding him in the 1990's for eighteen long years. Without the benefit of 2100 era metabolizers that put a stop to the entropy of aging, Kin begins to age, while his mind gradually seals off that portion of his memories that involve his life with his fiancée Penny in the future. To survive his feelings of loneliness, he falls in love with Heather, gets married, and together they have Miranda, his beloved daughter, a teenager at the start of the book. But as time has progressed, his mental status has become kind of unstable. He toys with the damaged tech that he gruelingly cut out of his own body, and one day it accidentally sends its signal beacon to the future. Before long another agent comes looking for him and his massive act of unscheduled temporal corruption (the sweet Miranda) is discovered. Right about the time Kin knows he's going to be forced to return to the future, he also discovers that Miranda has come across things he should have kept better hidden.
Once safely back in the future, Kin receives a slap on the wrist and a desk job. While he finds he is happy to reconnect with Penny, he misses Miranda terribly and is wracked with guilt to find that months after he departs, Heather is diagnosed with cancer and succumbs to it, leaving Miranda to be raised by her grandmother. How does he find this out? By breaking every possible rule and communicating with the past, risking a variation of the grandfather paradox, albeit one in which a future father influences the life of a daughter born and living in the past- a past that she can alter with the knowledge of the future. When she begins to do just that, the TCB decides to take drastic action. How will Kin loop together his past and present to safeguard his only child?
Here and Now and Then is carefully plotted and Chen makes you feel the strength of the father-daughter bond without ever making you feel it's melodramatic. Although built on a sci-fi scaffold, it's the relationships- Kin and Miranda, and Kin and Penny- that drive this fine debut novel forward. While I could quibble about the future tech and the lack of surveillance of a man clearly not happy to have left a child behind, I enjoyed this relatively quiet novel. The emotional toll of time travel is masterfully handled here.
I received a Digital Review Copy from Mira Press, along with a paper review copy, in exchange for an honest review.
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