Mike Chen’s 2019 Here and Now and Then is a standalone time-travel thriller.
The Temporal Corruption Bureau protects history from malicious tampering. Kin Stewart used to be a TCB field agent but, his beacon disabled in a fight with a perp, he can’t return to 2142. Marooned in the 1990s, he has no choice but to make a new life for himself.
Eighteen years later in 2014….
Kin’s life is happy enough, although the physical effects of being trapped in an alien time — memory lapses and blackouts – alarm wife Heather and daughter Miranda. How the trio would have handled the challenges 21st century life have handed them becomes an academic question when the TCB finally manages to locate Kin’s damaged beacon and Kin himself.
For timey-wimey reasons, the TCB cannot simply pluck him out of 1996. Instead, Kin will have to abandon Heather and Miranda, so as to make his disappearance something every day rather than mysterious. Kin is not happy about this. He goes along with the scheme because it’s the only way that the TCB will leave Heather alone and Miranda alive.
Back in the 22nd century, Kin picks up the threads of his old life. He has a fiancée named Penny. By her reckoning, he’s only been gone a couple of weeks (because that’s the way time travel works in this book). She doesn’t know why he’s returned middle-aged (time travel is just as secret in the 22ndcentury as it is in the 20th and 21st), but she’s willing to accept it as the side-effect of the mishap that landed Kin in hospital.
Kin marries Penny and settles into a desk job at the TCB. This permits him to find out what happened to Heather and Miranda, who are long dead in this time. To his alarm, he discovers Heather was terminally ill when he vanished, having apparently hidden her declining health from Kin. With both parents gone, Miranda went into a self-destructive spiral, ultimately landing in prison after a lethal DUI-related mishap.
Determined to save Miranda, Kin abuses his position to begin sending emails to the young Miranda, hoping to save her from a dire fate. This ploy succeeds beyond his wildest nightmares: not only does Miranda avoid addiction and vehicular homicide, she launches a successful career. That alerts the TCB to Kin’s shenanigans and lands Miranda directly in the TCB’s crosshairs. Kin’s efforts to save Miranda have instead doomed her.
I am afraid this book was filled with BUT WHY moments for me. Instead of focusing on Kin’s desperate efforts to save Miranda, I found myself gritting my teeth at the sheer stupidity of the plot and the desperate contrivances that the author introduced to make it somehow work.
Kin did not have to be marooned. Back in 1998 he could have left a message for the TCB in to pick up in 2142: a prearranged classified, a paper letter left in a safety deposit box1, or even a time capsule in some location designated beforehand by the TCB. No, the TCB relies on a single device, a beacon, which stops working. Backup, you idiots, backup.
One would think that the TCB, having essentially kidnapped Kin, would keep closer tabs on him. He had loved ones, he would want to know what happened to them, he would want to help . They should also have helped him deal with the trauma of losing him family. Counseling? (But to balance this, the TCB gives Kin second chances where a stranger would simply get a bullet in the head. So there’s that.)
Obviously the TCB is crap at their job, which would make sense since by definition official oversight needs to be constrained to protect the secret that time travel is possible.
The worldbuilding was unimaginative. 2142 is curiously similar to 2014, despite being as far removed from 2014 as 2014 is from 1886. Time machines, food replicators, and flying cars aside, society seems to work pretty much the same in the 22nd century as it does in the 21st. The nations and international organizations that are namechecked are ones 21stcentury humans would find familiar. The exception is the TCB, but then it’s secret so 22nd century folks wouldn’t know anything about it either.
I didn’t like the way that the women in Kin’s life would do most anything to accommodate him. Heather conceals her terminal illness from Kin to protect him from stress that might exacerbate what she takes to be crippling PTSD. Miranda endures a sport she disliked because it mattered to Kin. Penny realizes that she does not rate Kin’s full attention and she’s OK with it. Kin does have moments of clarity about all this but for the most part, the plot is about satisfying Kin.
I know women are socialized to be self-abnegating, but …
Well, I can’t like everything.
1: Granted, the same giant plot hole along with many other issues didn’t stop people from giving Willis’ Blackout/All Clear a Nebula Award, Locus Award, and a Hugo Award. NOT THAT I AM BITTER ABOUT THAT OR ANYTHING.