Book Love: Here and Now and Then
Time travel stories are 100% my jam, so I’ve been excited for HERE AND NOW AND THEN pretty much since it got announced. I knew this one would be an emotional ride: a time travel story about a dad trying to do right by his family & loved ones, when he’s suddenly separated from his daughter by a gulf of more than a century.
I really liked the idea of focusing a time travel story on a parent/child relationship. So much of navigating family conflict & big life decisions is about wishing for do-overs, or wondering what we would have done if we knew how something would turn out. But what if you could clearly see the consequences of your decisions, but still got an opportunity to try to change things for your family? An amazing premise.
Our main character, Kin, is a time-hopping, badass secret agent from 2142, whose missions send him into past eras to deal with rogue time-travellers. His job is basically to keep anyone from messing with past events. But while running a mission back in 1996, Kin’s intended target attacks him and destroys his beacon, preventing Kin from ever being able to return to his own time.
Determined to carry on with his life, Kin accepts the fact that he’s stranded and begins to build a new identity for himself as a regular dude in the late 90s. He gets a job, falls in love, and even fathers a child, breaking all the temporal non-interference regulations set by his old employers, the Temporal Corruption Bureau.
As a side effect of ‘existing in two time periods’, Kin gradually loses his memories of his original life in the future. His sense of his own history disintegrates, and his most personal memories of his family and friends in 2142 fade away. Kin’s fully committed to his new life, just doing his best at it. He’s devoted to his wife, and is a doting dad to their teenage daughter Miranda, even if he and Miranda don’t always see eye-to-eye. The one-time secret agent is now a network security administrator for an online game, and the biggest risk he takes is trying out a new recipe for dinner.
But when the Temporal Corruption Bureau finally catches up with Kin – 18 years after he got stranded – they whisk him back to 2142 without a proper chance to explain or say goodbye to his family. Ripped away from his wife and daughter and everything he holds dear, Kin is suddenly back in his own time, confronted with relationships and friendships from his old life that he can hardly remember.
Distraught Kin is desperate to find out what happened to his daughter in the past, and he can’t help attempting to change things. But one wrong decision could lead to Miranda becoming the TCB’s next target, deleting her from history forever.
This book does a brilliant job of tackling the after-effects of Kin being abruptly torn away from his loved ones & the life he lived in the past. With time travel stories, these sorts of details sometimes get brushed aside in favour of huge action sequences or the Big Historical Consequences of Changing Things. But the smaller human stories of love, loss and family bonds can make for the most affecting & memorable plotlines.
Thematically, Kin’s story has some common ground with the Star Trek: TNG episode The Inner Light, where Captain Picard experiences an entire lifetime as a villager on a dying alien planet. Picard remembers his real life throughout, but he eventually comes to feel like the life he’s experiencing on Kataan is just as real — until he’s suddenly pulled away from it and wakes up back on the Enterprise. Multiple decades have passed for him, but only a few minutes actually passed on the ship.
Captain Jean-Luc Picard plays a flute in his quarters, holding the only real relic that remains of his lost life in The Inner Light.
I’ve always wanted to see the premise of The Inner Light revisited in a longer format, without the necessarily abrupt ending it got in an episodic TV show. While the episode was brilliantly acted by Sir Patrick Stewart & the concept itself was fascinating, it always disappointed me that we didn’t get to see what happened in the aftermath. We never truly saw how Picard coped with the loss of a life that felt vivid, real and immediate to him, while also struggling to readjust to the original life that had faded to the background of his memories.
HERE AND NOW AND THEN explores that heartbreaking character journey in a beautiful way, letting us see the entirety of Kin’s emotional arc. (Yep, get ready to cry. I cried unabashedly in a coffee shop & had to get more napkins.) Ultimately, what makes this book shine isn’t the questions it poses about the grand nature of time, but the questions it asks about a single person’s life, and what it means to be alive here & now (& then).
Bonus details that I loved:
So many great geeky pop culture references!
Travelling to the past to get “decent fast food”
Coffee with honey (I kind of want to try this!)
The Tottenham/Arsenal rivalry continuing into the next century (lol)
A little note on genre
Before it was published, I read about how this book was “difficult to classify” due to it falling in the gap between literary and genre fiction. Personally, I think there’s a huge audience for stories that settle into these kinds of gaps. With its clear narrative & relatable characters, HERE AND NOW AND THEN would also make a super read to introduce someone who doesn’t typically read a lot of SF to ‘time travel stuff.’ As a reader & longtime SF fan, I’m always here for more emotional, character-focused, gentle sci-fi! ❤