KATHLEEN ANN GOONAN'S In War Times, originally published in 2007, won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Novel and the ALA’s Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. A complex exploration of the political implications of alternative history, In War Times begins in 1941, with Sam Dance being given documents that lead to the opening of a parallel world in which Dance’s brother, Keenan, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor to work for a better future — as does Sam in “our” reality. The SF element of the book is the “Device” Sam and his friend Wink develop, the ramifications of which are traced in the increasingly surreal second half of the novel. The Device, the workings of which are only hinted at but which have something to do with quantum mechanics, taps into the genetic basis of human perceptions of time, conferring an ability to alter past events — a process that works ever stranger, more powerful effects as the book progresses.
The first half of In War Times chronicles Sam’s travels through Europe, with our hero finding himself in so many significant places at historically notable moments that one wonders if he is related to Forrest Gump. A significant thread of continuity is provided by jazz music, which is paralleled with the development of modern physics and weapons of mass destruction, and functions as a life-affirming counterweight to them. (From Queen City Jazz onwards, music has been a central theme of Goonan’s work, and she writes about the subject better than anyone else in science fiction; her first quartet of novels continued with Mississippi Blues, Crescent City Rhapsody, and Light Music.) An afterword reveals that the non-science-fictional elements of Sam Dance’s life closely follow the adventures of the author’s father, Thomas E. Goonan, who provided engineering support for radar and other technology during the invasion of Europe in 1944, and extracts from whose notebooks appear throughout In War Times. These passages are hugely interesting, but the first-person text is so different from the novel’s main narrative that the inclusions sometimes jar. Still, the novel offers a compelling intellectual drama, a moving love story (when Sam meets his future wife, Bette), and a tense race-against-time thriller that works despite a technology that seems ludicrous, if visualized, and involves making fresh and interesting the tired cliché of revisiting the assassination of JFK to change the outcome.
This Shared Dream is set a generation later. Major characters from In War Times play minor roles, though they cast long shadows and continue to act behind the scenes. This much more domestic novel is set in and around the old Dance family home in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 1991, in a parallel world more peaceful and a decade or two more technologically advanced than our own. The focus is Sam and Bette’s three children — Jill, Brian and Megan — as they approach middle-age and struggle with the problems of work, family, and the barely remembered, shockingly traumatic events of their youth.
This Shared Dream contains a lot of incident, and there is plenty of complex story, skilfully woven into the mesh of the previous volume, but it is not a narrative-driven work to anywhere near the same extent. The plot happens largely off-stage. Although there is — eventually — a mystery to be solved, and so...read more