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Master of Time

Master of Time

A great novel is like the best acid trip in the history of the world. It lifts you out of your reality and places you in another one, with a new identity, a new environment, new perspectives. It wakes you up to possibilities you hadn’t considered and drops you in the middle of experiences you’ve never had.

I just got back from a trip I was taken on by an old friend (not really, we’ve never met, but it feels that way sometimes after almost four decades as a Faithful Reader) —by the name of Stephen King. Long known primarily for his early horror-thriller page-turners—which I still revere, they were the classics of my teenaged years—he has steadily grown as a writer over the years, branching out into psychological suspense and fantasy, dipping his toes in various other genres, and penning a superb tome about writing (On Writing) that’s still on my bookshelf today. (King is also one of the major influences I cited in a previous post.)

One of the elements that has always fascinated me about King’s writing is his pattern of taking believably ordinary people and subjecting them to the most extreme circumstances imaginable, to test how they, and the world around them, will react. He does it again, and magnificently, in his recent novel 11/22/63.

Time travel has of course been a staple of fantasy and science fiction pretty much forever, its ins and outs and potential pitfalls explored ad nauseam. King approaches the topic as he approaches everything: with an eye towards the small, telling details that take the fantastic and make it feel real. He also, to great effect, finds little mantras that function like the choruses in a good rock song, the lines you come to anticipate after a while. This time around, they are two related observations that frame the plot: “the past is obdurate,” but “the past also harmonizes.”

You know from page one of 11/22/63 that the story is going to be about someone traveling back in time to try to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. What I wasn’t expecting to discover was a love story that’s not just believable or touching, but one of the most genuinely moving love stories I’ve ever read. It’s the story of an accidental love between imperfect people, a love that against all odds grows and grows until it becomes a bond so deep and powerful that it can actually, credibly be weighed in one man’s heart against the fate of the world.

I won’t say more, except that King’s story did what every good story does to me: it made me want to write.

And I should really stop there (King would), but there’s this little kicker. Y’see, as soon as this post started coming together in my head, I knew exactly what song it had to be named for—“Master of Time,” a terrific tune written by original Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips and recorded by my favorite modern prog-rock outfit Big Big Train. Perfect, right?

Want to guess what genre of music features prominently in the novel I’m currently working on?

The past harmonizes.

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