One of my favourite sub-genres is time
travel and I've recently read two time travel books that have convinced me I've been transported to Bizarro World: one which should be a best seller but appears to have at best a small fan base, and another that is a best seller with rave reviews, but which really should retire to the land of forgotten books.
In the first category is a book called Replay by Ken Grimwood. It was published in 1988 and is about a middle-aged man living in 1988 who suffers a heart attack and finds himself back in his teenage self’s body in 1963. He relives his life for the next 25 years carrying all the memories of his previous life, and then dies again, of a heart attack at precisely the same age.
Only to come back to life again in his teenage self’s body life in 1963, with all the memories of both his first life and the second replay of his life.
And then relives this loop over and over.
What happens through these replays forms not only the best time travel novel I’ve read (and there are some tough competitors in this category, like Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates), it is something I would place in my top 5 all-time favourite books. What would you do if you were in his position (apart from buying shares in Apple at just the right time, or maybe stealing the idea for Facebook)? Would you marry the same person? Would you claim to be a clairvoyant? Would tell anyone about what has been happening to you? And what wold you do to avoid dying each time at the age of 43? These sorts of questions are only the tip of the iceberg. The emotional depth beneath them is enormous.
You may notice some similairies with Groundhog Day, a movie that was
released in 1993 and whose reputation has grown exponentially over the years. Yet Replay predates Groundhog Day, and in many ways Replay is Groundhog Day on steroids.
After I read Replay, I hunted around on the internet for information about the book. Clearly other people rated this highly as well. It won the 1988 World Fantasy Award and was on the shortlist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in the same year.
It didn't rate anywhere in any of the other awards, which to me is a strong argument for the value of juried awards, such as the World Fantasy Award and the Aurealis Awards.
In his review of Replay in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card said, “When I finished it, I felt I had been moving with the hidden rhythm of life, that I had seen more clearly, that I had loved more deeply than is ever possible in one short passage of years.”
Publishers Weekly said “Grimwood has transcended genre with this carefully observed, literate and original story.”
Although Publishers Weekly is praising the novel, I take issue with the "transcended genre" part. Replay is such a powerful and profound book precisely because it embraces its speculative fiction core. SF is at the heart of it. In every way. Without its SF heart, there is nothing there.
Replay is, quite literally in my view, a masterpiece. In fact, it is that rarest of creatures, a masterpiece which anyone can access. A masterpiece free of pretensions. A masterpiece that doesn't show its mastery by highlighting what the reader doesn't know or struggles to understand, but only magnifies the reader's perceptions. A book that changes how you look at life.
Replay is a long long way from being a best seller. I'm reasonably well read in the genre, but I'd never heard of it when my friend, and fellow Aurealis editor, Stephen Higgins recommended it to me. Maybe a couple of you reading this have heard of it, but I'll guarantee the overwhelming majority of you haven't.
How is this possible?
It can only happen Bizarro World.
So which time travel book is in the second category, the one that does make the best-seller lists, but in my view simply shouldn't be anywhere near there?
See Time Travel in Bizarro World - part 2.