Monday, 17 September 2012

11.22.63 9.2

This is a Stephen King novel about time travel and it doesn't really fit into the list of top SF books ever that I'm trying to read and score. It is speculative fiction though and I'm going to put it on the blog because quibbles aside it's a bloody good book.

Our main character Jake is shown a magic door back in time that takes one to the same date in 1958. If Jake returns to the present he can bring material objects with him but if he then returns to the past the clock is reset and people in 1958 he met last time won't remember him.

And that's the premise. One of those great what if? stoylines. The plot develops because the man who shows the door to Jake is dying of cancer and was trying to prevent the Kennedy assassination in 1963 but feared he wouldn't live long enough to last the five years in the past. He shows Jake the door and convinces him to complete the task.

The best thing about this work is that it sets the imagination racing. What would I do if I went back to 1958? Also, all through I was speculating on how I would end the book and couldn't wait to see how Stephen King would settle it.

The work benefits from the impressive amount of background research that really helps the reader feel like they are in 1958. The unintended consequences of time travel are also treated well. The emotional heart of the book is a heartbreaking love story which reminded me a lot of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

The main issue I have with 11.22.63 is that it is based on factual events and yet it chooses to ignore a lot of the facts about what happened at the assassination. He decides early on that Oswald was a lone gunman and fits that into the plot and nothing else is considered (the character in the book finds proof that Oswald acted along which means the internal plot is consistent). To be fair Stephen King does justify this in the afterwords and the story would have been very difficult to write with this extra complexity.

Another issue is that there are heavy overtones of the film Back to the Future here especially in how the character takes a list of sports results back the past to make money from bets. And the idea of returning to the future to see the effect of actions in the past. I'm sure there are other time travel books that have been pinched from too. It isn't a new premise.

The problem I have with deciding on a score is that it's a Stephen King and very exciting and readable. I mean the guy just has such a lovely flowing style that is very gentle. And his characters (told in the first person) do real things like have a meal and take a shower.

All in, a great read. I want to give it a higher score because it has charmed me with its easygoing manner but I must be logical about things like plot and structure and consistency.

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