Monday, October 17, 2011

"Replay" by Ken Grimwood

(cover image from

"Jeff Winston was on the phone with his wife when he died." That's the first line in the book. It's 1988 (Replay was first published in 1987), and the next thing Jeff knows, it's 1963.

He wakes up in his dorm room, still in college, with everything like it had been 25 years previously - except that Jeff remembers the future. So now what?

It's a great idea, isn't it? What would you do if you could relive the past 25 years, already knowing much about how it would go?

Note that Jeff's life, at least, doesn't have to go the way it did the first time. He'd found himself in an unhappy marriage, making too little money and with little feeling of success in his job. But this time, things would be different.

There are a lot of twists and turns in the book, so I don't want to say too much about it. You really don't want to hear spoilers about this one. But the first spoiler is actually on the cover of the current edition. It's on the back of my paperback copy, too, but I didn't read that before I started the book. Lucky me.

At any rate, since this "spoiler" is given away so clearly, on every copy of the book I've seen, here it is: this replay is only Jeff's first. I won't say more about it than that, except that it's quite an interesting idea for a science fiction/fantasy novel. (I think I'd call it science fiction, but it won the 1988 World Fantasy Award.)

You might have seen the movie, Groundhog Day, which has a similar premise. Well, they're a lot different, too. There's a 1955 short story, "The Tunnel Under the World" by Frederick Pohl, which is also a bit similar - and also very different. Despite the general similarities, Replay is unique.

To be honest, I didn't like Jeff Winston much, not at the start of the book, at least. My friends in the Classic Science Fiction group at Yahoo (this is one of our reading selections for October) generally disagree with me about that, so maybe you'll think differently. But I didn't especially like him.

And generally, I need to like the characters in a book in order to care what happens to them. So the story didn't grab me at first. I was almost halfway through the book before it did. But after that, I was hooked.

Actually, I don't know if I really started to like Jeff better or not, but the situation made him a lot more sympathetic as time went on. And the twists and turns in the story kept me interested. I won't go any further into those. But by the time I finished Replay, I was quite happy with it. It was both entertaining and thought-provoking.

I missed Replay entirely back when it was first published. I don't know how, since I was reading a lot more back then than I do today. But that's one of the advantages of our reading group. We read both classic (more than 30 years old) and modern (less than 30 years old) SF novels. And often enough, they're books that are new to me.

Check it out. Replay is easy to find, even today. It's still in print, and there seem to be plenty of cheap used copies available at AbeBooks. I suspect that most libraries have it, too.


Jim Harris said...

Replay is an underground classic. Over the years I've met scores of people that have read it and consider it one of the best books they've ever read. I've read it three times now and will read it again in the future. Replay makes you think about your life in new ways.

Anonymous said...

Comparing "Replay" to "Groundhog Day" is like comparing "Titanic" to an episode of "The Love Boat". "Replay" is my favorite book. I have read it several times and will read it again. There is talk of a movie, but I wonder if the story can to told in two hours. A lot of the events in the various replays would have to be left out. I am happy just leaving it as an outstanding book.

WCG said...

Well, Anonymous, you're comparing a book to a movie, which is hardly fair. I liked them both, but they're apples and oranges.

I did have some problems with Replay, so I wouldn't say that it's one of my own favorites. (Of course, tastes differ.) As I noted, I didn't like the main character much. But it's definitely worth a read.

Then again, Groundhog Day is definitely worth watching, too. :)

Anonymous said...

I like "Groundhog Day", too. But when I describe "Replay" to friends, they often mention "Groundhog Day" and say they don't really need to read the book. I have developed a bit of a pet peeve attitude toward "Groundhog Day".
To me, "Replay" is a book that appeals to middle-aged men. Almost everyone that has read it at my suggestion has come out with a "Why didn't he do that?" or a "I would do this."
By the way, I think the short story "12:01" by Richard Lupoff is similar, although I haven't read it for a long time. It also concerns a time loop. If you haven't read it, you may want to give it a try.

WCG said...

I loved the idea behind Replay, and yes, throughout the book, I was always thinking about what I'd do in that situation.

I didn't like the main character much, and for me, that's always a big problem in a book. (Note that I was very definitely in the minority about that in our Classic SF group.) But I was increasingly sympathetic as the book went on, and I loved the twists and turns in the book.

Thanks for the suggestion about the Lupoff story. I don't remember that one. I'll have to look it up.