2019’s Meet Myself There is the second volume in Brenda W. Clough’s Edge to Center time-travel series.
President Calla Ang of Jalanesia and her husband Colonel Bencasilat “Ben” Ming are enjoying a quiet day at home when a time-travelling assassin — Frances “Fanny” Allen-Forstyth née Wragsland — appears and murders their daughter Lilias and her nanny Sala before she is gunned down by a quick-thinking Ben. Very tragic but also in no way the end of the matter.
Before her head exploded, Fanny made it clear that her true target was Calla’s ex, time-travelling Victorian failed minister turned inventor Jack Wragsland. Having cost Calla and Ben so much, Jack sets out to deal with Fanny, who thanks to the miracle of time travel, is both a) extremely dead and b) alive and scheming.
Anyone with a time machine and the proper know-how can spawn copies of themselves to send off on one-way missions. Jack has the proper knowledge. Fanny’s dead body in no way ensures that there are no other Fannys scheming further outrages. Indeed, the attack is simply the first of a series of probes meant to draw Jack out where his homicidal sister can finish him off.
Jack could hide but others would suffer in his place. Armed with a superior version of his time machine, he sets off into the past to track down and confront Fanny. To his alarm, he makes two ominous discoveries:
An error in judgment has let Fanny’s time machine and her time clones fall under the control of someone more ambitious and less focused in their malevolence than Fanny.
Even were Fanny still in total control of the situation, she has very good reason to want Jack — every version of Jack she can find across the time streams — dead as Dillinger. Jack set out confident he was the protagonist of this time travel adventure. It may be that he is its villain.
I complain a lot about SF’s love of autocratic governments so I should take the time to acknowledge that Calla, who comes from a family used to a disproportionate amount of power in Jalanesia, is using her time in office to create the institutions needed for democracy to prosper once she (eventually) leaves office. Best of luck to her!
This passes the Bill and Ted test: Jack and Fanny use time travel as innovatively as did Bill and Ted.
There are at least three models time travel novels can use:
- Fixed history, where nothing can be changed, although sometimes there is wiggle room between what’s recorded and what actually happened (There Will Be Time).
- Single, mutable time, where the history can be altered, at least until the invention of time travel is somehow prevented (Run, Come See Jerusalem!).
- Many worlds, where every possible version of history that could have happened has, and all altering the past does is branch off a new timeline. Meet Myself There uses this model.
I was bit taken aback at Lilias and Sala’s extremely violent deaths. Given the existence of time clones, one might expect Jack to snag a spare version of both people on his way to fight Fanny. Set that expectation aside. Not only would the original versions still be dead, but Jack eventually comes to suspect that using time travel to fix problems just causes more problems. Indeed, the trail of carnage and broken lives left in Jack’s wake supports this model.
In fact, this review may need a content warning, since it threatens the reader with that most dire of literary hazards, actual character growth. Jack’s pursuit involves many adventures, but it also forces him to assess his own character in the process. It’s not a pleasant experience for the poor fellow and it does not help that most versions of Jack would benefit mightily from intense self-examination.
Given where the novel ends, it’s not clear where Jack goes from here. However, the existence of a third book proves further adventures await.
Meet Myself There is available from Book View Café.