CHARLESTON NOVELS TO READ (and some to avoid)

Here is a list of some of good (and not-so-good) fiction in which Charleston is one of the major settings. Obviously, there are plenty of books I am going to leave out. Since this is a list of my personal favorites (and otherwise) feel free to make your own list and send it to me!

WHAT TO READ

THE PRINCE OF TIDES & THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE by Pat Conroy.

Thprince tidese Prince of Tides  follows the story of Tom Wingo, teacher and football coach who is reluctant to help his twin sister’s psychiatrists unlock their dysfunctional family secrets. When his sister attempts suicide, Tom travels to New York to help her and bit-by-bit the psychiatrist pulls the family history out of Tom. Calling the Wingo family dysfunctional is like calling James Patterson a hack … true but an understatment

lords discipline Discipline pissed off a lot of Charleston people when it was published because it was a little too close to the truth. Charleston people like to be in charge of the mirror and tend to become defensive when someone else describes the reflection. Both books, Tides and Discipline are page-turners. Conroy is, at worst, an emotional and compelling writer.

Great Mischief / Josephine Pinckney.

great mischiefA perfectly creepy little book that unfortunately is out of print. I had to buy it used on Amazon. The year is 1895, and much of sleepy little Charleston is still lit by gas. Timothy Partridge operates a rundown apothecary shop, where things have’t really changed much since the glory days of Romeo and Juliet; drugs are still hanging from nails on the walls, such as bat wings, hummingbird feathers and strange, fiery potions. Timothy is supporting his shrewish sister Penelope and has a roguish best friend, the drunken doctor Golightly, who is always encouraging Tim to live a little, stop being such a fussbudget, One creepy stormy evening a young woman enters, dashing into the shop in an urgent, insistent plea for some solanum. Tim knows instantly there’s something “off” about the girl, but he has no idea that she’s actually a witch from hell, who will intertwine herself to his life and change it–forever.

Carrion Comfort / Dan Simmons

comfortThe War and Peace of the horror genre. One of my all time favorite books. It is December 1980, and a small circle of vampires—not the fanged blood drinkers of legend, but monstrously cruel human beings with the psychic ability to possess and dominate others—gather in Charleston for a reunion, where they score points by comparing the latest acts of extreme violence initiated on their command. It is a page-turning marvel, weaving multiple plot threads and over-the-top action sequences into a narrative of genuine, resonant power. One, Nina, is particularly proud of getting a faceless nobody to assassinate the Beatle John Lennon. But the game soon gives way to a power struggle of an even more ruthless sort. The mind controllers turn on one another, initiating a bloodbath fought with innocents snatched from their everyday lives.

Enter Charleston Sheriff Bobby Joe Gentry, nobody’s top nomination for action hero: An overweight, soft-spoken failed historian, who is baffled and angered by the sudden eruption of madness that has left Charleston littered with nine bodies in a single night. Gentry is out of his depth when his investigation begins to involve conspiracies that involve superpowers and cover-ups at the very highest levels of government power. He is soon joined by Saul Laski, an aging Jewish psychiatrist who has spent his life searching for the Nazi whose psychic powers he experienced during World War II, and Natalie Preston, a young black photographer whose own father was a victim of the massacre in Charleston. These woefully outnumbered three take on a global conspiracy, finding themselves alone in a world where any innocent can be possessed and turned into a murderous assassin without warning.

One of the creepiest characters is ‘sweet little old Charleston lady’ Melanie Fuller, one of the most evil creatures in modern literature.

Porgy / Dubose Heyward

porgy_dustjacketThe story of a crippled beggar who witnesses a murder during a dice game and later gives shelter to the murderer’s woman, the beautiful, haunted Bess. The Catfish Row community is united in its opposition to the union, but Porgy and Bess make each other happy, and their happiness only increases when they take in a child orphaned by a hurricane. Their idyll is brief, however. The murderer, Crown, returns for Bess, and Porgy, defending his family, kills him. The police detain him for questioning but never dream that a cripple could have been the killer, so Porgy returns triumphantly to the Row. The triumph turns to tragedy, however, when he learns that, while he was away, Sporting Life, the dope pusher, beguiled Bess with “happy dus'” and took her away to New York City to resume, it is implied,her career as a prostitute. The book, for all it’s melodrama, is beautifully written.

North & South – Love & War – Heaven & Hell / John Jakes

north and southHistorical fiction as it should be … well written, and well researched and full of forbidden love, illicit sex, double crosses and other intrigue. In North and South, two strangers, young men from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, meet on the way to West Point . . . The Hazards and the Mains are brought together in bonds of friendship and affection that neither man thinks can be shattered. And then the War begins.

Love & War: From the first Union rout in Virginia to the last tragic moments of surrender, here is a gigantic five-year panorama of the Civil War! Hostilities divide the Hazards and the Mains, testing them with loyalties more powerful than family ties. While soldiers from both families clash on the battlefields of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Antietam, in intrigue-ridden Washington and Richmond, strong-willed men and beautiful women defend their principles with their lives … or satisfy illicit cravings with schemes that could destroy friends and enemies alike!

Heaven & Hell: The war ends, but there is no peace for the Hazards and the Mains in a nation still inflamed with bitterness and hatred. The defeated South teems with schemers and carpetbaggers … and the North has no place for scarred veterans such as Charles Main, who struggles to rebuild his life in the Plains cavalry, only to be stalked by a murderous nemesis seeking revenge against both families. A gripping portrait of Reconstruction America, and a fitting conclusion to the saga of two mighty dynasties!

celia-garthCelia Garth: A Story of Charleston in the Revolution / Gwen Bristow

This young adult tale of Celia Garth, a 20 year old woman trying to make a living as a seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary war. Celia and her friends survive the seige of Charleston by the British, living through the constant shelling and lack of food until the final surrender. At first, things seem normal after the surrender and Celia begins to build a new life, but tragedy strikes after the British go back on their promises and Celia must start life afresh. This time, while working as a seamstress she is also a bit of a “spy” for the colonials.

Galilee / Clive Barker

galileeClive Barker has earned a reputation as the thinking person’s horror writer. His novels mix fantasy, psychology, and sheer creepiness in almost equal quantities. In Galilee, Barker soft-pedals the ghoulish in favor of the gothic. His novel (or as the author would have it, “romance”) tells the tale of two warring families caught up in a disastrous web of corruption, illicit sexuality, and star-crossed love, with a soupçon of the supernatural thrown in as well. On one side are the wealthy Gearys–a fictional stand-in for the Kennedys–and on the other are the Barbarossas, a mysterious black clan that has been around since the time (quite literally) of Adam.

Galilee chronicles the twisted course of this centuries-old family feud, which centers around the magical Barbarossa matriarch Cesaria and her son Galilee. Indeed, it’s the latter figure–one part Heathcliff to one part Christ–whose relationship with the Geary women sets a match to the entire powder keg of hostility and resentment. Mixing standard clichés of romance and some deep-fried Southern gothic, Baker created an intelligent and shameless potboiler.

Settling Accounts: In at the Death/ Harry Turtledove

settling accountsThis is the last novel of the Settling Accounts tetralogy that presents an alternative history of WWII. It brings to a conclusion the multi-series compilation that is sometimes referred to as Timeline-191. This alternative history began with the Confederate States of America winning the Civil War in 1862, followed by a war between the United States and Confederate States of America in the 1880s which is also won by the South. In the conclusion, the United State detonates an atomic bomb in Charleston, wiping the city off the map, in retaliation for starting the War Between the States in 1861.

Forbidden / Rebel Sinclair

forbidden coverFull disclosure … this novel was written by my wife.  So … I admit a major amount of bias. Still, it’s a page-turner.

After witnessing a murder plot in Regency London, Lady Madeline Winchester flees to Charleston, South Carolina and the protection of Magistrate Exchange Agent, Nicholas Gales. Afraid and alone but for her starchy lady’s maid, Madeline is drawn to her dark, moody guardian and his plantation home of Myrtle Downs just as she is repelled by his society of prejudice and slavery.

In a world where breeding and birthright mean everything, there is no possibility of a future with a man like him – especially since Madeline is betrothed to a duke in her homeland. Drawn together by passion, yet torn apart by social differences and dreams of the past, Nicholas and Madeline have only each other to shield them from a darkness that has been orchestrating their lives in this perilous 19th century tale of intrigue and betrayal.

The Fallon Saga / Reagan O’Neal (Robert Jordan)

Great historical fiction on the same level with North & South. Written by Charlestonian James Rigney, Jr, more popularly known as Robert Jordan, author of the massively successful fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Jordan died in Sept. 2007. Sharp-eyed tour guides often got a glimpse offallon him walking Tradd Street.

In The Fallon Blood, escaping brutal English overlords, 1760s Irishman Michael Fallon becomes an indentured servant to Charleston merchant Thomas Carver, where his infatuation with Carver’s sensual daughter Elizabeth causes life-changing complications. In The Fallon Pride, Michael Fallon’s son Robert Fallon survives years at sea fighting Barbary pirates and enduring the siege at Tripoli. He then returns to America with an Irish wife, Moira McConnell, and goes into business in Charleston where he raises a somewhat troublesome family. In The Fallon Legacy, James Fallon, the last scion of the Fallon line, strikes south and west, adventuring in New Orleans, Missouri, and finally Texas (then still part of Mexico). He loves and loses women, ranches and breeds horses, and becomes entangled in the schemes of shady men and women. Enemies made by Michael and Robert during their lifetimes converge upon James, who must find out if he has strength enough to stand against them.

WHAT TO AVOID

South of Broad / Pat Conroy. The worst book Conroy has written (so far!)! Avoid like a syphilitic whore.

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig. This is AWFUL!! One of the worst novels I’ve ever tried to read. Silly and poorly written. The narration is fuzzy and the story is well … silly. Why can’t they leave Gone With The Wind alone? First there was Scarlett by Alexandria Ripley which was a snore-fest and now this “Authorized Novel”. Rhett Butler should challenge the Margaret Mitchell estate to a duel for this insult!

All of the ‘island” books by Dorothea Benton Frank. You know … those books that have the fill-in-the-blank plot lines; the major change in each book is the characters’ names and the sea island she uses as the setting. Frank is the female James Patterson – books written for the barely literate.

All of Mary Alice Monroe’s Oprah-fied low country-based, let’s-save-the-turtles fiction.

William Gilmore Simms – praised in his time (1800s) by none other than Edgar Allan Poe, Simms is virtually unreadable today.


BEST SERIES of Crime Novels

In no certain order …

1. “Travis McGee” by John D. MacDonald. 21 books all with a color in the title (The Deep Blue Good-bye; Darker Than Amber; The Green Ripper, etc …)darker than amber

Travis McGee, works as a “salvage consultant” in Ft. Lauderdale and has all the best qualities of Magnum, Rockford, Bond, and Robin Hood, with the addition of yen philosophizing and rueful self-awareness. Must be read in consecutive order.

2. “Burke” by Andrew Vachss. 18 books.

floodVachss (rhymes with “tax”) is a lawyer who only represents children and youths and writes the darkest, most unrelenting series of books about crime and revenge. Main character Burke is one of the “children of the secret” – abused children who were victimized without ever experiencing justice, much less love and protection. To say the least, the adult Burke is a deeply conflicted character. Must be read in order.

3. “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 4 novels and 5 collections of short stories.

What can you say? The all-time greatest, most famous detective in the world and his constant companion, Dr. Watson. No matter how edgy and steampunkish Hollywood makes the movies, these are still some of the greatest crime stories every written. 

4. “Thorn” by James P. Hall. 14 books.

Thorn lives in the Florida Keys and makes his living tying lures for fly fishing. He also helps people out of sticky situations on occasion.  There’s quite a bit of Travis McGee in UnderCoverOfDaylight.Thorn, and a little bit of Burke also. You don’t have to read these books in order, but I highly recommend reading the first one (Under Cover of Daylight) so you will understand why Thorn is the way he is.

darkattheend5. “Repairman Jack” by F. Paul Wilson. 10 books.

Andrew Vachss calls Repairman Jack “righteous!” An apt description. Jack is a loner who lives off the public grid (no SSN, no official identity) and makes his living “fixing” extreme situations. Some may argue that since Jack’s adventures feature touches of the paranormal and science-fiction, horror and fantasy, this should not be listed in a “Crime Novel” series. I disagree, just for sheer enjoyment and the crime-ridden, violent world that Jack lives in.  Must be read in order.

6. “Joe Kurtz” by Dan Simmons. 3 books  

hardasnailsHard Case, Hard Freeze, Hard As Nails are hard-boiled crime noir at its best. Simmons is one of my all-time favorite writers. In addition to these great novels, he has also written my two favorite horror novels (Carrion Comfort and Children of the Night), a sci-fi classic (Hyperion) and a great Hemingway historical novel (The Crook Factory). It helps to read them in order.

7. “Parker” by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake). 24 books.

parker-novel-donald-e-westlake-paperback-cover-artParker may be the meanest, nastiest character on this list. Very few redeeming qualities. These books are almost nihilistic. Highly recommend you read these in order – some of the books began the second after the previous book ends.

8. “Justin & Cuddy” by Michael Malone. 3 books 

uncivil seasonsUncivil Seasons, Time’s Witness, First Lady. Great literate mysteries set in small town North Carolina. Uncivil Seasons is one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. Period.  Read in order.

9. “Lew Archer” by Ross MacDonald. 18 books.

lew archerWilliam Goldman calls these the “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” MacDonald is the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler but his writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Archer often unearthed the family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them. Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. Macdonald was one of the first to deftly combine the two sides of the mystery genre, the “whodunit” and the psychological thriller. Jonathon Kellerman is the modern heir of MacDonald’s noir. 

10. “87th Precinct” by Ed McBain. 56 books.

87th precinctABSOLUTELY THE BEST! It is impossible to rate this series too high. It is the most consistently entertaining police procedural novels written about day-to-day cops, the inspiration for “Hill Street Blues” and all the other more realistic, gritty cops show that followed through the 1980s, 90s and beyond. Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Ollie Weeks, Cotton Hawes, and Andy Parker are just  a few of the memorable characters we have  come to know and love who work out of the 8-7. And of course, the Blind Man, one of the greatest, coolest criminals to grace crime pages. McBain died in 2005 so alas, there will be no more 8-7 books.

11. “Harry Bosch” (18 books) and “The Lincoln Lawyer” series (5 books)  by Michael Connelly.

brass-verdict_lConnelly is perhaps the best crime fiction writer of the last decade. Harry Bosch is an LA police detective. The books, dark and often violent, explore Bosch’s psyche as he investigate murders and crime in L.A. Harry’s illegitimate half-brother Michael Haller is called the “Lincoln lawyer,” since he is an unconventional defense lawyer who works out of the back seat of a Lincoln automobile. The “Lincoln” books are endlessly entertaining. 

12. “Inspector Lynley” by Elizabeth George. 19 books


lynleyBrilliant!
 Detective Inspector Thomas “Tommy” Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers are with New Scotland Yard. The dynamic between the accomplished and aristocratic Lynley and the street smart, foul-mouthed, uncouth Havers is only the first brilliant part of these books. Their cases are psychological compelling, filled with comic characters (Havers in particular) and range across the whole of Great Britain. 

13.  “Crazy Florida” by Carl Hiassen. 13 novels. 

The most fun set of books on this list … by far! While strictly not a series, all of the Hiassen’s ‘crazy Florida” novels can all be lumped together. There are about a dozen skin tightrecurring characters (not in all the books) and enough thematic similarities that connect the novels.Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Stormy Weather, Skinny Dip, etc .. are all comic caper masterpieces.  Embrace the insanity!   

14.  “Kenzie and Gennaro” by Dennis Lehane. 6 books.

 lehaneTwo private investigators in Boston, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who take cases that are gruesome, sad, and plain horrifying. Gritty, dark and confronting challenging moral questions, this is a compelling series, by a writer more famous for his stand alone novels, Mystic River  and Shutter Island.

15. “William Monk” by Anne Perry, 21 books

execution dockQuite possible the best crime fiction of the last 20 years. At the beginning of the series Monk is a London police inspector in the 1850s. The first book in the series opens with Monk injured in a carriage accident with a spotty memory of himself and his life. Over the next several novels, not only does Monk investigate crimes, he is also investigating himself, trying to understand what kind of person he is (was) and learning he does not want to be that person.

After the accident he met Hester Latterly, a Crimean War nurse and they became close. Only Latterly knew about Monk’s memory issues. In the second book, A Dangerous Mourning, Monk was fired from the police force for insubordination and became a private investigator. Lady Callandra Daviott (Hester’s best friend) financed his private investigations. Sir Oliver Rathbone was his love rival (he too wanted to marry Hester) and judicial adviser in his case.

In “Dark Assassin,” Monk joined the Thames River Police to pay a debt to a friend who died on a previous case. Although he finds the shift from street policing to river policing difficult, he earns the respect of his men and continues on in this position.

16. “Spenser” by Robert B. Parker. 35 books.

promised landI almost didn’t include Spenser here, but I had to. This is an infuriating series … the first 14 books are as good as PI fiction gets … and the rest are hit-and-miss. Hawk is one of the great characters in crime fiction. But then you also have Susan Silverman – Spenser’s main squeeze. The more important Susan Silverman becomes to the story the more annoying the book is. I keep hoping Susan gets killed and we get back the old, tougher Spenser, not the Oprah-fied Spenser we currently have. During the latter books Hawk became nothing more than a walk-on one-note character; it’s as if Parker was scared to explore the darker dynamics of Hawk and his world.  


ESSENTIAL TIME TRAVEL NOVELS

Yesterday, over beer and burgers, I got in a discussion with Savannah-based author James Caskey about our favorite time travel stories which prompted me to put together a list of essential novels in the genre.  Any of these would be great beach reading. So, forgo the weekly James Patterson published novel and go with one of these classics instead. Listed in alphabetical order


THE ANUBIS GATES by Tim Powers (1985)

anubis-gates-time-powers-gollanczQuite brilliant. The colonization of Egypt by western European powers is the launch point for power plays and machinations. Steeping together in this time-warp stew are such characters as an unassuming Coleridge scholar, ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and other quasi-mortals, all wrapped in the organizing fabric of Egyptian mythology. The reluctant heroes fight for survival against an evil that lurks beneath the surface of their everyday lives.

BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore (1953) 

jubileeThis is one of the first (and the best) of the alternative history novels that ask: What if the South won the Civil War? Politically complex, astute and endlessly fascinating. The point of divergence occurs when the Confederate States of America wins the Battle of Gettysburg and subsequently declares victory in the “War of Southern Independence” on July 4, 1864 after the surrender of the United States of America. The novel takes place in the impoverished United States in the mid-20th century as war looms between the Confederacy and its rival, the German Union. History takes an unexpected turn when the protagonist Hodge Backmaker, a historian, decides to travel back in time and witness the moment when the South won the war.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT by Mark Twain (1889)

connecticut yankeeThis story is both a whimsical fantasy and a social satire chock-full of brilliant Twainisms. Hank Morgan, a 19th century American-a Connecticut Yankee-by a stroke of fate is sent back into time to 6th century England and ends up in Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. Although of average intelligence, he finds himself with knowledge beyond any ofthose in the 6th century and uses it to become the king’s right hand man, and to challenge Merlin as the court magician. Astounded at the way of life in Camelot, Hank does the only thing he can think of to do: change them. In his attempt to civilize medieval Camelot he experiences many challenges and misadventures.

THE DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME by Michael Moorcock (1974 onward)

Dancers_at_the_end_of_timeEnter a decaying far, far future society, a time when anything and everything is possible, where words like ‘conscience’ and ‘morality’ are meaningless, and where heartfelt love blossoms mysteriously between Mrs Amelia Underwood, an unwilling time traveller, and Jherek Carnelian, a bemused denizen of the End of Time. The Dancers at the End of Time is a brilliant homage to the 1890s. The series include the following novels: An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs.

GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner (1993)

glimpsesThe first rock n roll time-travel novel! In the song “American Pie” Don McLean asked the question: “Can music save your mortal soul?” Glimpses answers that question with a resounding “YES!” Ray Chackleford is an unstable, self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. These unresolved relationships are complicated when Ray travels to the Mexican site of his father’s death and promptly falls in love with a woman even more unstable than he. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear music in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians. Shiner’s appealing main character and his gripping style overcome the less believable aspects of his story. If you love classic rock and roll, this is a must read!

THE GODS THEMSELVES by Issac Asimov (1972)

In the year 2100, mankind on Earth, settlers in a lunar colony and gods themselvesaliens from the para-universe, a strange universe parallel in time to our own, are faced with a race against time to prevent total destruction of the Earth. The invention of the Inter-Universe Electron Pump has threatened the rate of hydrogen fusion in the sun, leading, inevitably, to the possibility of a vast explosion — and the vapourization of the Earth exactly eight minutes later . . . Asimov, is always, accurate and brilliant. The science is plausible.

THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS by Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter (2000)

light of other daysTwo titans of hard SF–multiple award-winning British authors Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama) and Baxter (The Time Ships)–team up for a story of grand scientific and philosophical scope. Ruthless Hiram Patterson, the self-styled “Bill Gates of the twenty-first century,” brings about a communication revolution by using quantum wormholes to link distant points around Earth. Not content with his monopoly on the telecommunications industry, Patterson convinces his estranged son, David, a brilliant young physicist, to work for him. While humanity absorbs the depressing news that an enormous asteroid will hit Earth in 500 years, David develops the WormCam, which allows remote viewers to spy on anyone, anytime. The government steps in to direct WormCam use–but before long, privacy becomes a distant memory. Then David and his half-brother, Bobby, discover a way to use the WormCam to view the past, and the search for truth leads to disillusionment as well as knowledge. Only by growing beyond the mores of the present can humanity hope to survive and to deal with the threats of the future, including that asteroid. The exciting extrapolation flows with only a few missteps, and the large-scale implications addressed are impressive indeed.

THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF by David Gerrold (1973)

folded himselfDaniel Eakins inherits a time machine and soon realizes that he has enormous power to shape the course of history. He can foil terrorists, prevent assassinations, or just make some fast money at the racetrack. And if he doesn’t like the results of the change, he can simply go back in time and talk himself out of making it! But Dan soon finds that there are limits to his powers and forces beyond his control. A wild ride!

PASTWATCH: THE REDEMPTION OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS by Orson Scott Card (1996)

pastwatchTagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west. Columbus, with whom readers become acquainted through both images in the Pastwatch machines and personal narrative, is portrayed as a religious man with both strengths and weaknesses, a charismatic leader who sometimes rose above but often fell beneath the mores of his times. An entertaining and thoughtful history lesson.

REPLAY by Ken Grimwood (1986)

replayWhat if you could live your life over and over, and over again? Jeff Winston, a failing 43-year-old radio journalist, dies and wakes up in his 18-year-old body in 1963 with his memories of the next 25 years intact. He views the future from the perspective of naive 1963: “null-eyed punks in leather and chains . . . death-beams in orbit around the polluted, choking earth . . . his world sounded like the most nightmarish of science fiction.” Grimwood transcended genre with this carefully observed, literate and original story. Jeff’s knowledge soon becomes as much a curse as a blessing. After recovering from the shock (is the future a dream, or is it real life?), he plays out missed choices. In one life, for example, he falls in love with Pamela, a housewife who died nine minutes after Jeff; they try to warn the world of the disasters it faces, coming in conflict with the government and history. A third replayer turns out to be a serial killer, murdering the same people over and over. Jeff and Pamela are still searching for some missing part of their lives when they notice they are returning closer and closer to the time of their deaths, and realize that the replays and their times together may be coming to an end. A brilliant book. An all-time classic.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)


slaughterhouse_five“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”
After he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, Pilgrim’s life unfolds in a display of plot-scrambling virtuosity, concentrating on his shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Okay, we’ve all read it.  If not … what are you doing reading this blog? ‘Nuff said.

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finny (1970)

Time-and-Again-Novel-CoverSimon Morley, an artist with a premium on imagination, is chosen as a possible subject by a group operating on the theory that time is charted by a myriad of details and if surrounded by what appear to be the artifacts and events of an era, they might be able to project themselves into the actual time slot. For weeks Simon is secluded in an apartment in New York’s famous landmark, the Dakota, where he dresses, eats, entertains himself and reads newspapers in tire style of the New York of 1894 and finally he walks out into the Central Park of that January. As Simon wanders and takes photos of the familiar-but-different New York landscape, he becomes involved in the lives of several of his 19th century acquaintances. And there is a mystery that Simon is determined to solve that has to do with a suicide and a cryptic letter that ends “the sending of this should cause the Destruction by Fire of the entire World.” 

TIMESCAPE by Gregory Benford (1980)

timescapeIt’s 1998 and a physicist in Cambridge, England, attempts to send a message backward in time. Earth is falling apart, and a government faction supports the project in hopes of diverting or avoiding the environmental disasters beginning to tear at the edges of civilization. It’s 1962, and a physicist in California struggles with his new life on the West Coast, office politics, and the irregularities of data that plague his experiments. Then he receives an unusual message … 

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis (1997)

To_Say_Nothing_of_the_DogIn 2057, Ned Henry, an Oxford expert in the 20th century, jumps back and forth from the 1940s to correct a loose screw in the works of the time continuum. A tongue-in-cheek raspberry to Victorian novels, the story unfolds with such madcap screwball intensity it makes the pages burn your fingers as you read. This a fun ride!

UP THE LINE by Robert Silverberg (1969) up the line

Being a Time Courier was one of the best jobs Judson Daniel Elliott III ever had. It was tricky, though, taking group after group of tourists back to the same historic event without meeting yourself coming or going. Trickier still was avoiding the temptation to become intimately involved with the past and interfere with events to come. The deterrents for any such actions were frighteningly effective. So Judson Daniel Elliott played by the book. Then he met a lusty Greek in Byzantium who showed him how rules were made to be broken…and set him on a family-history-go-round that would change his past and his future forever!