Downtiming the Night Side by Jack L. Chalker (1985)
As a longtime hard science fiction reader, I’ve always liked Jack Chalker books, especially his Well of Souls series. He’s a space opera kind of guy, and a reader can splash easily into one of his books. However, Downtiming is something completely different.
Time travel books are by nature convoluted and this is probably one of the most convoluted time travel tales you’re ever going to read. Poor Ronald Moosic is having a really bad first day at work. When he shows up to take over the supervision of a power plant in Maryland, he discovers it’s not a power plant and terrorists have decided to choose his first day as they day they take over the installation.
The terrorists flee to Victorian England, and Ronald has to chase them, even though he is just finding out about the time travel device ran by the government as a “power plant.” Time travel, however, isn’t without its complications. Unlike Time Tunnel, Ronald’s physical form can’t actually go to muddy and diseased England. He has to take over a human living in that time for the couple days necessary to stop the terrorists from assassinating Karl Marx, but what can an uneducated teenage boy do to help Ronald in his mission. Plus, he still shares memories with the lad he’s jumped into.
Then, it gets really complicated. The terrorists aren’t terrorists but another faction of time travelers trying to stop Marx’s resurrection. Ronald goes to a spot out of time with fellow time travelers where he meets a beautiful woman who won’t have anything to do with him. In the meantime, he’s leaping into other people – most notably a nun who thinks she’s been possessed by the devil – to thwart the other faction.
He and the hesitant girlfriend are stranded on an island without their timebelts and raise a family (!) before he’s pulled back into the time business. It gets a little confusing with all the time jumping but some of the characters are very interesting, including the bad guys who might not be bad at all.
My mind was completely blown (SPOILER ALERT!) when he jumps into his wife, and we discover she avoided him at the beginning because she was him! I don’t even want to think about having your own children, but this story is never a dull moment. That Ronald has a very complicated life, and it makes for some very interesting reading.