Romantic sub-plots are an ever present reality in speculative fiction books. I, however, haven’t been a big consumer of romance novels. I don’t want to just hand wave it away by saying “I am man! I’m too busy watching football and drinking beer!” but I can’t deny I have never sought out a romance specifically for the pleasure of reading. Hell, I fight tooth and nail with my wife about seeing rom-coms with her. We did negotiate a peace treaty which requires me to take her to one movie of her choice on her birthday, but that is a whole other story.
Still I picked up a copy of Somewhere in Time (originally titled Bid Time Return) by Richard Matheson. There were a few reasons for this decision. First, its time travel theme intrigued me, especially after it was recommend at Capricon. Second, I have always been a fan of Matheson’s since I read a collection of his short fiction years ago (which included I Am Legend), but I have never gotten around to reading one of his novels. So, it was with some trepidation I bought a copy of Somewhere in Time and took my first foray into romance.
As mentioned before, it does involve time travel. The protagonist, Richard Collier, is dying from brain cancer and decides instead of slowly wasting away in his brother’s home to go on one last epic trip across the country. While stopping at an old hotel outside of San Diego, he comes upon a picture of a once famous stage actress, Elise McKenna, who died in the 1950s. Collier becomes obsessed with the dead actress and begins researching into her life. He discovers she had a brief affair in the 1890s with a mysterious man in the same hotel Collier is staying at and he begins to suspect he is that man. I don’t think I am spoiling anything by saying he succeeds in reaching her, but I will leave how their romance plays out to you if you are interested in reading the book.
The story is told in the first person by Collier, who uses a tape recorder and hand written notes to tell his story, with occasional notes from his brother who came upon the manuscript. I found this to be an ingenious way to tell a story so I was hooked from the beginning. The method of time travel was difficult to swallow, since it did not use any forms of technology, so hard SF fans probably won’t enjoy this tale. The rules of time travel, however, were logical, following the “anything that has happened, will happen and will always happen” theory of time travel that I enjoy. It also brings up the age old debate of free will vs. fate, which I tend to avoid because of how boring it is. As humans we lack the perspective to ever know the truth, so you might as well just enjoy the ride. There was also a bit of unexpected humor as Collier compared life from the 1970s to the 1890s, which for someone reading from the 2010s really showcases how different all three decades are from each other.
All in all, I found Somewhere in Time to be an enjoyable read, but it hasn’t sold me on romance novels, even those with SF bent. Still, I tried something new and it didn’t kill me. It certainly did not stop me from recommending this novel. I might even suggest it to my wife. Now off to read something with a spaceship battle in it…