Monday, February 9, 2009

Review - Replay

by Ken Grinwood
1988 World Fantasy Award Winner for Best Novel

So is that an awful cover or what? Just a note to those who handle cover layout: Microsoft Word is not a valid option.

When a man dies in the late 80's he awakens to find himself returned to his college life in 1963 to live those years over again. He takes advantage of it to become rich and powerful but when the date of his death rolls around again the process starts again and he is once more returned to 1963. As his life repeats he explores the myriad of ways it could have gone with his knowledge of what would come.

This is speculative fiction at its most fundamental: a clever idea and the myriad of consequences of it are explored in depth. Weaker novelists settle for the high concept but Grimwood's concept has very human consequences. The impact is personal and so Grimwood explores how the experiences of replaying ones life over and over changes a person.

This would not have been effective if Grimwood wasn't skilled at crafting characters. The protagonist of Replay starts as an everyman and the reader is with him every step of the way as he changes. Each cycle through his life brings new challenges and developments. His attempts to hold onto what he had before are mixed with attempts to improve and his changing definition of "improvement". It gives the book a heart that it needs to elevate it beyond other more standard fare.

The problem with that character, though, is that there's a lot of time where he's nasty, creepy, and just a bit disturbing such as when he stalks the woman who married him in his original life. If a reader doesn't have the patience to wait for him to change (and he's always changing and not necessarily for the better) then they may get turned off from the book very quickly.

Something I need to mention about the plot is its constantly shifting form. While certain developments progress linearly but each loop of his life is a story of its own. Things shift every thirty to forty pages and Grimwood does an admirable job of juggling the shifting tones. If you're not happy with how the plot is progressing give it twenty pages and it will shift again underneith you and you'll rarely be able to see where things are going.

The worst thing I can say about Replay is that I wasn't impressed by the prose. Grimwood's style is a bit flat and while that's perfectly acceptable it's also not special.

Really that's the worst thing I can say about this novel. Replay is a pretty good book: the concept will hook you, the characters will reel you in, and the plot land you. It's a time travel novel unlike any other and well worth reading.