Mike Chen’s Family-Oriented Time Travel
Time travel stories are, in my opinion, one of the more complicated subjects authors could choose to tackle in the science-fiction genre. Apart from the technical limitations in terms of realism (time travel stories are more often than not contradictory in their premise), the author must also choose how they are going to balance the story with the technical elements.
There are, of course, schools of thought for both extremes and any point in-between, and today I’d like to take a look at Mike Chen’s Here and Now and Then, which lands much closer to the “story-focused” end of the spectrum.
With the story’s beginning we are presented with a seemingly regular man, Kin Stewart, living a normal life in 1990s San Francisco. He works a decently-paying job in IT, his marriage is slowly losing the fire yesteryear, and he has a teenage daughter, Miranda, with whom he finds it rather difficult to connect.
All in all, an existence about half the people in the world could probably relate to. However, there is one thing which sets Kin apart: he is a time-travelling agent from the year 2142, stuck where he is after a botched mission.
For years he has managed to keep his secret safe and sound, until one day, eighteen years too late, his rescue team finally shows up. However, Kin isn’t exactly happy with the idea of having to leave the life and family he has finally grown so attached to, and despite the future being a more comfortable place, it’s not somewhere he can take them along with him. Due to his presence in the past threatening historical continuity, Kin is forced back into the future, to the fiancee he pretty much forgot.
Unable to forget Miranda, he keeps on following her life against the rules, and one day sees her life in danger. Willing to go through hell and back for her sake, he prepares to undertake one final trip in time in hopes of saving her, even if it means risking all he has and breaking all the established rules and regulations of time travel.
Story Before Technicality in Here and Now and Then
As I mentioned it above, this book is one where the author chooses to focus his writing more on the story and the characters, rather than the actual science of time travel and all the philosophical questions which arise with it. Instead, we are only given a relatively cursory knowledge of how the phenomenon operates in this world, and for the most part, we are simply asked to accept its existence and functionality as a given and understood thing in this universe.
Additionally, I found there was even less focused placed on exploring the world of the future than I had imagined in the first place. I was prepared for long and grandiose expositions when Kin was transported back to his home, but ultimately I was a bit surprised to see just how quickly the action went back to the present day.
While at first it felt a tad jarring, I very much came around Chen’s approach when I realized it would play a strong role in maintaining a fast and exciting pace, constantly prodded to move forward with dangerous deadlines.
Personally, I have no problem with either approach to the subject, so long as the authors sticks to whatever path they have chosen for themselves. From start to finish, Mike Chen maintains this story-based focus and never tries to insert scientific elements or observations which would ultimately feel out of place.
Now, I do understand the appeal of time-travelling science-fiction for many people, is, the exploration of the actual mechanics behind the concept and how they would tie-in with the real world. Simply be warned there isn’t much focus placed on it in this book.
The Real Human Issues
And so, what do I mean exactly when I say the focus is placed more on the story and the characters?
To begin with, the story places quite a lot of attention on Kin’s internal world and the struggles he constantly deals with being torn between two lives he has established for himself. For me, this was ultimately the story of a father who tries his best to do right by his daughter, despite being separated from her by over a century.
For me, this is where the appeal of great science-fiction lies: to see normal, realistic and believable characters thrust into impossible situations, struggling with regular human problems but under a whole different context.
Simply-put, it’s fascinating to watch Kin juggle between his responsibilities as a father and as a time-travelling agent, all while doing his best to stay mentally-composed in the face of circumstances we could only imagine. Chen is definitely showing an immense talent for creating profound and complex characters who legitimately feel human.
Though the story might be anchored in place by the concept of time travel, in the end I would argue it’s primarily the story of one man trying to make the most of the single and messy life he has been given. Instead of exploring the concept of time or our relation to it, the book explores the ultimate immense value a single life can have.
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As a matter of fact, I think it’s safe to say this is the type of science-fiction book which pushes boundaries and would definitely be interesting to people who don’t normally find themselves looking through this massive genre.
The Final Verdict
Here and Now and Then by Mike Chen is an exquisite piece of science-fiction which uses the concept of time travel to tell an emotionally-profound story exploring the main character in all of his humanity.
Whether or not you’re into the science-fiction genre, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat if you enjoy more complex novels which explore familial and parental themes, while delivering it an enjoyable pace with a welcome side of entertainment.
VIDEO: Must Read Fiction interview with author Mike Chen
Mike Chen is a lifelong writer who mostly pursued it as a hobby alongside his engineering degree and freelancing work which led him to a long career of developing WordPress websites.
With the ability to now pursue what he truly loves, he has so far published two books, A Beginning At The End and Here and Now and Then, the latter of which earned numerous accolades, including being named as one of Book Riot’s and Entropy’s best novels of 2019.