Review: Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen

Rating: 8.5/10

Synopsis

Kin Stewart is an agent in the Temporal Corruption Bureau (TCB). He was sent from the year 2142 to complete a mission in the year 1996, but things went awry and Kin is stuck in the past. But now, 18 years later, the TCB has sent an agent to retrieve Kin and bring him… ahem… back to the future. He has since settled in to a life in 2014 San Franciso: a job, a family, a pet dog. Kin does not want to leave, but he is left with no choice: return to the year 2142 or his 2014 family faces “elimination”.

As Kin begins to re-adapt to his new/old life, he is having trouble letting go of the past and begins to use TCB resources to keep tabs on his 2014 family, eventually going too far and putting them in danger. Now Kin will do whatever it takes to keep them safe.

Review

Here and Now and Then may be Mike Chen’s debut, but it is written with the composure of a grizzled pro. The story is very well-thought out as it traverses several timelines and multiple storylines from different time periods that intersect. I came away impressed with the author’s ability to integrate the plots, settings, and characters into one overarching narrative that fascinated me from beginning to end.

There are so many dimensions to this story that reading the book felt like putting together one of those 3D puzzles. The reader not only experiences Kin’s life in 2014 and 2142, but the story also involves parts of his family at different moments in other timelines, as well. The complexity does not feel like a burden on the reader at all, though, as Mike Chen does a good job of differentiating between timelines and explaining exactly what is going on whenever there is a timeline shift.

I really like the dichotomy this book propositions: Kin in 2014 is very different than the Kin of 2142. Kin 2014 is a family man, master cook, good with kids, works in IT; Kin 2142 is engaged to be married, no kids (and is awkward around them), cannot cook a meal, and works a Secret Agent. The most interesting part of this plot point is that Kin was the 2142 version first, grew into the 2014 version, and then returned to 2142 as the 2014 version of himself. This paradox poses a thought experiment I am sure most of us have considered: “What is Bizzaro Me like? Does he hate reading and love sushi (ie – the opposite of me)? What would I be like if my circumstances suddenly changed? How would I adapt?” To see this quandary play out in Kin’s life is really intriguing, and I enjoyed the thought process.

The driving force of this book is Kin’s need to protect his family, first from the agents that come back to 2014 to “rescue” him, and then from the TCB in 2142 when things begin to go sideways for them due to Kin’s own actions. It is an emotionally-charged aspect of the book, and Kin’s struggle with it is quite evocative. He carries a lot of guilt for the danger he has put his family in and spends much of book trying to use the resources at his disposal to keep them safe.

Kin’s guilt extends to his 2142 situation, as well, as he tries to re-adjust to a life with his fiancee in that timeline. He struggles with this, as well, because 18 years has passed for him, while it has only been a few weeks for everyone else.

The end was really good, as there is a nice little twist to the story that actually brought a tear to my eye (which is very difficult to do). Credit to Mike on his writing prowess for that.

The book had a few minor drawbacks. I am not sure the consequences of playing with time were explored enough. There were times when I thought someone’s action might really mess up the timeline, but that never happened. Also, I questioned a few of the decisions made by characters in the second half of the book. Finally, I wonder if the year 2142 is too early for time travel. These are minor things, though, that did not take me out of the story for long.

Here and Now and Then is a really good book. While it uses time travel as a backdrop, the story is really about family and the consequences of one’s decisions. I recommend this story for fans of Sci-Fi and anyone looking for a feel-good story.

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