Title: Here and Now and Then
Author: Mike Chen
Release Date: January 29th, 2019
Subjects and Themes: Time Travel, Families
Page Count: 336 (hardback)
Rating: DNF @ 37%
Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.
Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.
Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.
Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process
So this wasn’t exactly the feel-good time travel drama that I’d had in mind.
And I’m starting to think that I’m setting too-high standards for these time travel stories because I haven’t been impressed with the majority of the ones I read in the past year.
Long story short, while I liked how readable and snappy the writing is, I felt the story lacked in-depth exploration into not only the future world and the time travel agency, but also the characters and their relationships.
There are too many details that I found silly and/or scientifically wobbly, like the invention of a metabolizer that increases human life span by a whopping 200 years that will come about in 100 years from now, which seems far too soon; the concept that our brains can’t handle memories of two time periods and no real explanation as to why; the fact that our protagonist’s full name is Quinoa due to a food-name fad that happens sometime in the future; the notion that this big important agency doesn’t have set protocols for when an agent gets stuck in a timeline; and the idea that the U.S. in the future is doing secret collaborative time travel projects with Australia of all countries (nothing against Aussies! It’s just not very plausible). It’s all just so…arbitrary and quirky for the sake of being quirky–like something out of a children’s cartoon.
Okay, so this is one of those goofy light-scifi stories. Not what I expected, but fair enough. At least the characters are interesting, right?
Well, I thought the characters’ actions were baffling and nonsensical so I guess technically that could be construed as “interesting.”
For example, there’s a scene near the beginning where Kin is worried that the agency will terminate his 1996 family and he has a lightbulb moment where he decides he’s going to run away alone, which makes absolutely no sense considering how the agency already knows where they live and can take them as hostages to lure him back.
Moreover, there’s little chemistry between Kin and his wife and daughter, and this takes the emotional impact out of some of the later events.
And speaking of later events…
Kin ends up returning to his original timeline but then finds out that his wife dies just a few months after his departure. So he decides to retroactively send an email to his daughter (dated one day after his wife’s death) which begins with this line:
“First off, I am so incredibly sorry about what has happened to Mom and that you are suffering alone.”
That is a letter you might send to a coworker or an acquaintance when they’re in a rough spot (in fact, an acquaintance did send me a similar e-mail after I was in the hospital for suicidal reasons and that had ten times the emotion of Kin’s version). And even then the “first off” makes it sound flippant–like you have more important topics to get to. It’s definitely not the letter a grieving man would (or should) write to his grieving daughter that he unwittingly abandoned.
It’s a detail that just really bothered me and it underscores the feeling that these characters don’t behave as normal humans would.
I think I’m in the minority of opinions, though. So if you crave soap opera-y family dramas with light sci-fi elements then you might want to give this one a try. It wasn’t to be for me, unfortunately.
Review copy provided by the publisher via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.