Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Book Review: Twice Upon a Time

Twice Upon a Time Review


Written back in a time when Christian fiction wasn't restricted to romances amongst, or with the Amish, and just about the time that end time fever hit with "Left Behind", "Twice Upon a Time" is a novel not about about time travel.

The story is about Mike Field, advertising executive and baby-boomer, who meets with an old frenemy, Lenny, who is constantly getting him into trouble. This time though, Lenny is saying goodbye.

But Lenny isn't just leaving town. He's leaving the century.

Mike accompanies his friend on one last misadventure which has him breaking into Lenny's workplace to use the company's conveient top secret time machine. They end up in the past, and the overwhelmed Mike Field heads "back to the future."

The plot thickens.

Upon his return, Mike learns that something has changed. He learns that his son has drowned several years previously.

Lenny has somehow altered the space-time continuum, and like any other man, Mike Field hates when that happens and sets out to fix whatever Lenny broke.

After some sleuthing, Field pinpoints the point of divergence and heads back to the past and finds himself wrapped up in a conspiracy to ensure that the murder of William McKinley occurs as he remembers it from his timeline.

The plot boils as Field tries to re-re-write history and avoid other time travelers out to get him.

Will he ensure the return of his son?


I first heard of this book when I was looking for a Christian view of time travel. Needless to say, there has been little written on this subject. I happened upon a book review for this book, then forgot about it. After forgetting about it, then getting into the story of the videogame "Chronocross" which had a similar plot device of someone drowning in one timeline and not another, i recalled the plot of this book and tracked it down to read it.

So how does this book measure up?

The book is not without its faults, but I found it to be an enjoyable read altogether. It's a shame van Wey didn't put out more time travel books as there is a lot of territory he could have ventured into and I think future efforts would have only gotten better. The potential for sequels is definitely there.

But I know how life often prevents such things.

At any rate. Here are my thoughts on the book.

The book's premise is very interesting. It has high emotional investment right off the bat and it is very compelling to read. However, the novel starts off with kind of a silly or unbelievable premise, as if it isn't sure of itself as it sets up the reason and method of time travel.

Let's get the bad out of the way, because I honestly don't want to mention it as the novel's good points redeem it in my opinion.

The idea that someone would go on one more adventure with a friend prone to causing trouble is a stretch. Especially since Field dislikes Lenny so obviously. Lenny's character at the beginning is also a stretch as is the idea that he somehow found a way to time travel. It just starts out kind of weakly and honestly comes off as.a bit corny to start with.

There's not really anything wrong with corny, just get through it.

The time machine also is not especially exciting. It's a hand crank telephone in a bank vault. Its not a delorean, it's just a phone. Obviously a phone time machine was done, and done better in "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and with Dr. Who's police box TARDIS. This too is excusable because the movie "Frequency" got away with using a ham radio and electromagnetic interference.

Little else will ever top the flying de Lorean as a time machine and the sooner we all get over the fact in any story, the happier we all will be.

Still, an essential part of a successful time travel story is its time machine. Often the machine is a character in itself. Even Baxter's "Time Ships" gets a pass because most of the time machines were appealing.

I digress. Van Wey's time machine is sub average, but it at least works consistently.

The last bad thing to say would be that Mike Field as a narrator uses exaggerated figures of speech way too often. Like more than Carter.has liver pills. Some are kind of irritating, but endurable.

Some of the characters are also not that appealing in how they act or speak, and Mike's come to Jesus moment didn't feel especially compelling or even necessary, unfortunately.

These really are the only bad things to say, and aren't even that bad to begin with. They certainly are not deal killers to the story.

The good parts of the story are what kept me reading.

Field's investigation and discovery of where history changed was very riveting and a decent mystery. Trying to figure it out was a slim chance, but he was able to convincingly piece it together. Some may say the whole history changed/butterfly effect notion is overdone, but really it makes for a good mystery.

Being the only one to remember an unchanged timeline is a staple of time travel yarns and it works well here.

The novel's foray into the age of 1901 is quite honestly the best part of the book, and once there makes this book a page turner. Van Wey's description of the world of yesterday was pretty convincing as was his portrayal of Leon Czolgsz (sp?). It's quite obvious that this section of the novel was where the author's heart was at. It was well researched and written incredibly. In fact, were it not for this novel, I never would have known about McKinley, his assassination or the other related events. Anyone thinking history class is boring, think again!

Although Czolgsz doesn't get a lot of face time, and doesn't really do or say much, yet his character is seems alive.

People should read this novel for that aspect alone.

While this part of the story is excellent, I would have liked to see more struggle with Mike's moral dilemma in his task to ensure the death of William McKinley. There is some, but it really is a huge thing to deal with and could have been a bit heftier.

I would also have liked to see more thought given to the enormity of time travel and changing and even restoring history. I mean, the guy has to help kill someone to save his son! That is not normal! It would also have been nice to see how the whole theology of time travel works out, but it was not to be I guess. Which is OK, because this story at least helped me to start thinking about that.

(If anyone wants to see more Christian time travel fiction, let us know and keep it in prayer. I know a guy who has a massive idea but little time to devote to it with work, life and whatnot. Maybe start a kickstarter for it. Otherwise it'll be in the ether for a while until things get worked out with this guy.)

Anyone who's a fan of historical fiction would find this an enjoyable read. It's also a good introduction to time travel fiction, though to someone who's read as much time travel stuff as I have it may be less enjoyable. I've been nitpicky so far, but its because I enjoyed it overall.

I would recommend this book, but warn that it does have its weak points especially for old bitter time jockeys like me. But then, so do other time travel stories.

As an aside, this book has some peculiar time travel connections. I cannot say that they were all deliberate on van Wey's part, some of them could not be unless van Wey himself is a time traveler.

First, the cover I have, the character to me looked a lot like Dennis Quaid. Quaid had a prominent role in the film "Frequency" which was made after this book was published. It also dealt with similar though less weighty themes.

Another coincidence or nod would be that Mike Field recognized a Beatles tune while in the past. Here, "Hey Jude," while in Tim Powers' "Anubis Gates" the song "Yesterday" was featured. Most likely this is because van Wey is a Baby Boomer and the Beatles are recognizable to that generation. But it was enough to make me wonder if he'd read Powers.
 Powers may have just been cute with the double meaning of his song choice.

Other connections to time travel fiction would be the "Back to the Future" (and any sci-fi) idea of changing history. "Butterfly Effect" has some similarities as does "Donnie Darko" when dealing with predestination paradox issues though van Wey doesn't deal a lot with those.

All in all, van Wey wrote a pretty engaging and well researched historical fiction novel with time travel as kind of a tangential thing. I would recommend it as it's a decent time travel story for anyone new to the genre and is a good counter to books like Wells' "Time Machine" and Baxter's "Time Ships" both of which are great reads, but heavy-handed in their message of evolution and essentially Genesis 3 undertones respectively. It's also a needed contrast to the occult heavy Tim Powers books "Anubis Gates" and "Three Days to Never" ("Three Days" was a mess and left a lot more loose ends and felt like half a book). Those may be better in a literary sense, but their underlying messages are ultimately not the truth and are counter to the gospel.

"Twice Upon a Time" is likely out of print, but relatively cheap on Amazon. It would be nice to see it for kindle, but i dont think that's likely to happen any time soon.


but...the future refused to change...