Appel, Allen. Time After Time.

NY: Carroll & Graf, 1985.

Among science fiction sub-genres, I’m a great fan of time-travel stories — and yet I somehow missed this first volume of an outstanding trilogy for more than a decade after its publication. How did I never hear of it or read a review? Because it certainly received a good deal of well-deserved attention among the reviewers. God only knows. But I’ve read all three volumes more than once in the thirty years since.

Alex Balfour is a young history professor in New York City and the son of a famous historian turned historical novelist . . . and the grandson of yet another professional historian (he figures it’s a genetic predisposition). The death of his parents in a plane crash when he was seventeen has left him semi-wealthy, enough so that he owns a brownstone and can do pretty much what he wants. Since childhood, however, he’s been afflicted with extremely realistic dreams: If he dreams about walking in the rain, he’ll wake up with wet hair. It takes awhile, but eventually he finds he’s actually traveling back in time — the venue being determined by whatever period he’s presently absorbed in researching.

In this first book, that’s the Russian Revolution, and Alex finds himself in the thick of it. Of course, it’s unsettling for his girlfriend when he disappears from their bed and reappears in front of her weeks later. And it upsets Alex to run into his father back there in St. Petersburg — not a young version, either, but a man older than the age at which he supposedly died in the plane crash. Which is how he discovers that his ability to travel in time is also inherited. Alex has long hated his father, incidentally, and with good reason, and the old man continues to try to manipulate his son, just as he always did. There’s plenty of action and totally believable adventure in the story as Alex gets involved in an attempt to save the Tsar and his family from their Bolshevik executioners, but there’s also a great deal of internal and external moral and political discussion and the character development and exploration is exceptional. His six weeks in the care of the Okhrona is especially harrowing. Appel wasn’t a historian but a New York print journalist who wanted to see if he could write a readable novel, but he’s a very thorough researcher who absolutely nails the factual details. This is far more than a weekend’s light escapism.


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