Last Year / Robert Charles Wilson
I love a good time travel book. And I also love history. And this is a great read in light of both those things.
It's late 19th century Ohio, and Jesse Cullum is hard at work in the city of the future. Literally. A group of individuals from the near-future have come back to this part of this past to set up a modern resort for future tourists to come and sight-see. For a price, of course.
Wilson sets up a time travel plot that seems realistic: people in the future have discovered The Mirror, a portal to limited parts of the past -- they can stay for a few years, but this is their Last Year, before the portal will close. Between now and the due date for the closure, the owner of the City will try to get as much as he can out of this world. The time travel paradox is explained by the multiple universes idea: this is one version of the past but may not result in the future that these people are coming from, especially because of their influence on historical developments on things like technology and medicine.
But Jesse's a great character, introspective and heroic in the strong, silent manner. His partner/boss from the future, Elizabeth, is pretty badass and it's a race toward the portal's closing for them as they begin to develop a relationship.
It's a fun read with elements of thriller, political drama, time travel, Western and more. I liked the way he dealt with the paradox of time travel and the encounters between past and future people (I just wish he'd have lightened up on the "humourous" mention of Jesse's having lost his pair of future-made Oakley sunglasses in the opening pages -- I was getting tired of reading "Oakleys" pretty quickly!)
Anyway, a fun, engaging, accessible read that brings up concerns about colonialism, 'first contact', social constructs of behaviour, politics and money, and more. I enjoyed the fast moving plot that seemed a little bit loosey-goosey at times but was so enjoyable to read that I didn't mind the few reservations I had about it. For example, there are no Native characters in the story, just a quick mention of their existence, and the women of the past are primarily prostitutes, apparently.
And the blurb for this book has the story wrong -- it says "Jesse Cullum is a native. And he knows the passageway will be closing soon. He's fallen in love with a woman from our time, and he means to follow her back--no matter whose secrets he has to expose in order to do it." But Jesse does not intend to follow Elizabeth back -- in fact, they discuss the implications of just such ideas, as well having part of their job being trying to locate "runners" -- those who've come to the Past and run from the tourist city to live in their ideal of the past.
But despite that, this is a good read that might be a fun, unusual pick for a book club: there are many ideas to discuss. If you are a time travel fan, and can take a bit of thrillerish violence & some f-bombs, you will probably like this one too.