Rating: 4.6 stars
So many times I’ve wanted a do-over, a chance to reboot, knowing in advance exactly where things went wrong and therefore knowing exactly what to fix. This is what Paul deVere and Lewis Ginter decide to do, only on a much grander scale. They’re middle-aged MIT professors in 2026 who’ve spent much time and grant money on building a time machine. They’re goal: to return to 1962 and convince JFK to stick with it in Vietnam.
Wait for it.
Because deVere and Ginter live in the American Soviet Socialist Republic, where everyone suffers under a Communist bureaucracy. In their world, JFK pulled out of ‘Nam in 1964 before being elected for his second term, and Communism took root in SE Asia, then in S America, and finally in N America. A world-wide domino effect.
Ginter and deVere hope for a successful mission and then a return to a 2026 unlike anything they’ve known. They realize they’re putting their own lives at risk: they may very well start a chain of events that would result in their never being born (oh, time travel paradoxes, you’re so confusing!). Of course, once they get to the 1960s, they realize how ill prepared they are for this old world. For one thing, Ginter is African-American, and he’s just arrived in the land of Jim Crow. Oops! Also, two women with perhaps conflicting goals accompany them into the past, and there are a couple of Soviet agents on their trail as well.
Let me say right off that this is a great read. It’s full of action, misdirection, shady characters both invented and real (Nixon makes a cameo on a plane flight, Pierre Salinger parries questions at a foreign policy talk), and scenes that draw on the Zapruder footage, the Warren Commission Report, and Oswald’s whereabouts and actions in late summer through mid-fall 1963. Ahlgren has fun with his story as well. Minneapolis, the capitol of the ASSR, has been dubbed Yeltsengrad (the characters all call it “Vodkaville”), everyone communicates electronically via the Gorenect (named after its inventor), and Boston’s Big Dig is well into its 4th decade and still unfinished.
A lengthy scene towards the end, where everyone confesses secrets and motivations, is a bit too much like the final drawing room reveal in a murder mystery (“You’re implying, Poirot, that one of us is the killer?”), and Ahlgren puts the Birmingham 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in the wrong year. Otherwise, two definite thumbs up. Now, who’s working on the screenplay?
Lizzie Ross, from The Kindle Book Review
I received a free copy of this book for an independent, fair, and honest review.