Last Year by Robert Charles Wilson
Two events made September 1st a memorable day for Jesse Cullum. First, he lost a pair of Oakley sunglasses. Second, he saved the life of President Ulysses S. Grant. It’s the near future, and the technology exists to open doorways into the past but not our past, not exactly. Each “past” is effectively an alternate world, identical to ours but only up to the date on which we access it. And a given “past” can only be reached once. After a passageway is open, it’s the only road to that particular past; once closed, it can’t be reopened. A passageway has been opened to a version of late 19th century Ohio. It’s been in operation for most of a decade, but it’s no secret, on either side of time. A small city has grown up around it to entertain visitors from our time, and many locals earn a good living catering to them. But like all such operations, it has a shelf life; as the “natives” become more sophisticated, their version of the “past” grows less attractive as a destination. Jesse Cullum is a native. And he knows the passageway will be closing soon. He’s fallen in love with a woman from our time, and he means to follow her back – no matter whose secrets he has to expose in order to do it.
Time travel has been discovered. And for a hefty price, people from the future can visit the past and immerse themselves. Of course, this has changed the past and created an alternate realities wherever the gates are opened. Jesse is a native of the late 1800s who works for people from the future – for as long as they remain. But his final job for them, hunting down “runners” from the future leads Jesse to be confronted from events from his past.
I love books about time travel and alternate history, so Last Year was immediately appealing. But besides the immersive world, the characters were incredibly engaging as well. The story has elements of science fiction (of course), mystery, adventure, and intrigue. While people and things come from through the future, we have Jesse’s point of view from the past of what the future looks like to them. It’s an interesting and believable take. I thoroughly enjoyed the characters and the fantastic worldbuilding. And the thrilling finale doesn’t disappoint.