I’m not usually one for time travel tales—some read too much like math problems, with not enough historical detail for my particular bent. Others carry me along but seem to fall apart after I think about them a bit.
Reincarnation Blues isn’t time travel in the usual sense, as in parallel universes or time paradoxes. As the title promises, it’s about reincarnation, so we dip in and out of past, future, present, our man character born in new bodies (not always human, or the same gender when he is) each time.
While the Breakey sucked me in from the very first page, it took me some time to get into the Poore, as we meet Milo, a guy obsessed with Death, who wears the form of a girl named Suzie. Suzie reminded me too much of the typical manic pixie dream girl, a type that depends so much on the male character’s obsession with her, when no matter how much she disrupts everyone’s life around her, it’s okay because She’s Just That Winsome.
The storyline around that is Milo having lived just under ten thousand lives. If he doesn’t reach perfection by the ten thousandth, he risks oblivion, but he’s been resisting perfection because Suzie.
But then he falls into another life that challenges him to the max, and suddenly the story shifted into high gear. When he gets back and Susie is actually in trouble herself, the novel had me hooked hard and wouldn’t let me go as Milo learns about consequences, and tackles big questions about human nature, and responsibility, as the lives spiral out into impressive feats of imagination.
And of course love gets its innings, too.
Love is also central to Unraveling Timelines, though I would not call either of them romances in the modern sense—with the setting pretty much a backdrop, and most of the attention on the main two characters in their journey toward one another. The worlds are too fascinating, the side characters too involving, and there is no guarantee any of the main characters will be safe in either of these books.
Unraveling Timelines begins with nerdy, clumsy gamer Peter Chang lucked into a stockbroker job without any effort of his own. His adoptive parents are kindly people, if busy with their lives, and his bestie is one of those basement-living 24/7 gamers who is as smart as he is a total hermit.
Peter has never had much luck socially, and even less with women, so when he finds himself intensely attracted to a mysterious woman who appears at his place of business, of course he goes about meeting her all wrong . . . and gets shot to death by her psychotic half-brother for his pains.
Then he wakes up with his chest whole, and nobody around him seems to remember his death.
That is only the beginning of Peter’s troubles.
We learn about the secret world of Time Travelers and those who want to destroy them, and those who just want to stay away from them, along with Peter, as he and Nikki deal with the fallout of their meeting.
Fallout that keeps getting far worse no matter what they do. And the faster they run, the more they are chased by some very, very scary hit people. Meanwhile Peter is having increasingly compelling dreams, and discovering, bit by bit, that he is not as hapless as he’d always thought.
Breakey gives everyone complexity, motivation, emotional spectrum, villains and heroes alike. Including side characters. The world within a world is both fascinating and frightening, and also kind of exhilarating.
It’a taut, high-intensity chase novel, exploring character more than big questions, unlike Poore’s. We also get character, but as Reincarnation Blues progresses, the questions spiral outward in breathtaking fashion.
All good parents taught their kids this same lesson: if everyone agreed to suffer pain or death rather than be treated unjustly, greedy people could never again gain power.
“We’ve had fifty generations of justice now,” they told the children. “Don’t be the generation that blows it.”
The theme is human struggle, the setting the entire world, and imagined worlds beyond, all through time. Poore takes many unexpected twists and turns with Milo’s search for perfection, and what that might be; he follows Milo and Suzie through a kaleidoscope of experience, never losing sight of the full range of human potential, good and bad—harrowing and breathtakingly uplifting—sad and funny, gross and wise.
Both novels are character driven. Their writers tell their stories in stylish, vivid prose that made these books keepers; though both novels are equipoised in that place between science fiction and fantasy, I think they evoke that sense of wonder that for many is what the best SF and F is all about.