Monday, June 18, 2018

Last Year, by Robert Charles Wilson (author), Scott Brick (narrator)

Macmillan Audio, December 2016

Jesse Cullum is one of the local employees of the city of Futurity, a man of the 1870s hired first to help build and then to be a security guard for the city.

Futurity is a city built by people from the 21st century, who have technology that allows them to travel into, not their own past, but into an alternate past, a past that appears to be theirs, but in which changes won't affect their own time. The technology is said to be a product of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and licensed to a wealthy industrialist named Kemp when it proved to have no military value. He's using it to run tours of the 1870s for the well-heeled of the 21st century, while offering the natives of the 1870s a carefully selective view of the 21st century. The gateway, the "mirror," will only remain open for five years, allegedly to avoid having too much impact on this alternate world, and it's now the start of Futurity's last year.


Jesse Cullum has been a dedicated and capable employee. He's saving his earnings to help support his sister Phoebe in San Francisco. He generally likes the 21st century people, but there's a distance created by the gulf in experience and attitudes.

Then Jesse prevents the assassination of President Ulysses S. Grant on a visit to Futurity, and the weapon turns out to be a Glock, which should never, ever have gotten into the hands of a man who proves to be a local. Jesse is about to get much better acquainted with his 21st century employers and fellow employees, and at the same time discover some unpleasant secrets about Kemp's plans, the true origins of the technology, and why Kemp has enemies that include his own daughter.

Jesse and his contemporaries knew they were being exploited, but they assumed it was within normal limits. They have no idea of the truth, and Jesse is about to find out. He's assigned to work with Elizabeth DePaul, an Iraq War veteran. It's an education for him, and she gets an education in the 19th century outside of Futurity as they investigate the presence of Glocks in the hands of locals.

This is a really interesting story, an interesting twist on time travel, and really interesting, compelling characters. Neither time frame is portrayed as "better," though each has, from the viewpoints of its natives, some real advantages.

Recommended.

I bought this audiobook.