Wednesday, September 14, 2011

My Troubles With Time, by Benson Grayson--A Review


Kindle Edition, Amazon Digital Services, 2011

When Maynard Snodgrass's mother drops him off, at age seven, at an orphanage, the other kids quickly nickname him "Nerdly." It's not kind, but it is true. With looks plain enough to be boring and not ugly enough to be interesting, an excellent brain, and a self-effacing personality, Maynard evokes either complete disinterest, or a certain amount of resentment because it's just human nature to resent those you take advantage of. And Maynard gets taken advantage of a lot, because he doesn't have the confidence to say no. It's still happening when he's an assistant professor of physics at Miles Standish University, writing the department chair's papers and getting no publication credit, and not even getting tenure. So he pursues a dream, and invents a time machine.

He decides to make a quick test trip to the US Civil War, and bring back a photograph of himself with several Union officers to prove he's made the trip. Other people might realize that more than one person can buy a replica Civil War uniform, but that would involve the people skills that poor Maynard, as smart, kind, and well-intentioned as he is, just doesn't have. Unfortunately, he goes wildly off-course geographically, and winds up in Paris in 1870 rather than near a major Union Army encampment in 1863. He's in the middle of the German siege of Paris, and he knows no German and very little French. But, determined only to protect his time machine and his ability to get home, he's sufficiently forceful that he rallies a small unit of the French National Guard, achieves a small local victory, and finds himself the welcome guest of senior French officers. Surrounded by people who think he's a successful American military officer who served in the U.S. Civil War, rather than by people who know he's an ineffectual, easily-exploited physics professor, he finds a confidence and decisiveness he hasn't experienced before, and starts to wonder if he's really the worthless creature he's always thought himself.

Once he gets safely home, he finds himself getting kicked around again, even by his cat. His attempt to convince the National Physics Society that he's invented a working time machine go about as well as you'd expect, and everything goes downhill from there.

What he does next is even nuttier, has even reason to be successful, and plays out in ways that are as unexpected for the reader as for Maynard, despite the fact that we and he have quite different expectations. Saying anymore would be a spoiler, so I'll limit myself to this: There's too much wish-fulfillment here, but it's nicely-plotted, fast-paced, and funny. Not belly-laughs funny, but you'll smile through much of the book. Maynard is likable to begin with, and he learns quite a bit from his experiences. There's a bit at the end where I'd have liked to have seen an editor slap Grayson's hands and make him fix it, but this really is an enjoyable book, and I'll look forward to seeing more from him.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the author.