As all readers of this blog must know by now, I love time travel. LOVE it. All the paradoxes the concept creates, all the possibilities of changing the future and changing the past, the brain-twisting notions of identity and memory and history, all of it fascinates me. So when I have a chance to get a new and potentially interesting book about time travel, odds are really good that I’ll get it. Case in point: Last Year, by Robert Charles Wilson, which presents a new and bizarre, but fascinating, notion of time travel.
The idea is time travel tourism. In our modern 21st century world, the technology has been invented to allow people to travel into a particular point in the past. Each of these points represents an alternate past, the same as ours up until the moment the doorway opens. From the moment the first time traveler appears there, that world’s future changes, and no one can predict what will happen in that world from then on. Once a passageway opens to a particular time, that’s the only way that time can be reached, and when it closes, no one can go back to that past.
Admit it, you’re intrigued already. But that’s just the background. There’s more.
There’s a little town in late 19th century Ohio which is the terminus of one such passageway, and has been for almost a decade. The existence of the time travelers is no secret to anyone on either end of the passageway. As a matter of fact, the people in the 19th century town have built a city at the terminus, whose whole function is to accommodate the time travelers from our time. But there’s a cost: as the people in the town become more sophisticated, their town seems much less like the past that people want to visit. Its popularity is starting to decline. People want the “real” past and not this half and half life. The passageway is going to close soon.
Which would be a real problem for the book’s protagonist, Jessie Cullen, who’s spent his life in that Ohio town and who has fallen in love with a woman from our time. He is not going to let her just disappear from his life forever. No, he’s going to follow her to the future, no matter how hard that is, no matter what he has to risk.
Will he manage? What will happen if he does succeed? When the past and future collide, what you have is a heck of a mind-bending story. Case in point: Last Year.