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Here, There & Everywhere by Chris Roberson4 stars

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsExpanded from Any Time at All, a previously self-published novel, Here, There & Everywhere is an often dazzling time-and-universe-travel adventure whose energetic and warm writing more than compensates for some deliberate vagueness in the plot department. It’s rare these days that a novel can absorb me well enough that I read it in a day and feel invigorated by the experience. 

It’s the story of Roxanne Bonaventure, whose life takes an unusual turn in adolescence. When her widower father, a professor ailing from cancer, sends her from her native England to America to finish her schooling, Roxanne is deeply sad and lonely. But a chance (?) encounter with a dying old woman changes everything. 

The woman transfers a bracelet, the Sofia, from her wrist to Roxanne’s, and then disappears in a quantum puff. Roxanne soon discovers that her mind can communicate with the Sofia, and that the Sofia will send her just about anywhere she wants to go in time. Revealing the Sofia’s existence to her father back home, he fills her in on the Many Worlds Hypothesis, the notion that every time anyone does anything at all, the universe splits off into parallel timelines in which all possible consequences of your actions occur. If true, which I doubt, this means that somewhere there exist alternate universes in which Germany won World War II, Bush lost in 2000 (well, he lost here too, but that didn’t seem to matter), and Brad and Jen never split up. It seems like pretty wild wishful thinking to me (though I admit the math physicists use to back up all this speculation is so far beyond me as to be an alien language), but it provides terrific fodder for SF stories.

The Sofia makes Roxanne unique amongst the Myriad, the nifty name she’s come up with to refer to the infinity of universes. She only exists in one space-time stream, instead of branching off into parallel Roxannes the way we branch off depending on our actions. Soon, Roxanne is an exploration fanatic, venturing into alternate earths to see what things would have been like if humans had not become the dominant species, traveling to ancient Rome to brush up on her Latin before exams (sweet!), learning martial arts in Asia. In some cases she adopts new personas and stays put in one time, always aware she can return to her own present at a split second after she left. Also, the Sofia will allow no harm to come to her, so there’s no risk of inadvertently popping off to a world with no atmosphere or anything.

But Roxanne is acutely aware of how her unique circumstances have left her profoundly alone. She may travel to, even live in these alternate times and worlds for a spell, but she is displaced, alone. She doesn’t truly belong.

The novel is so episodic that it often reads like a story collection. This may frustrate some readers, who find themselves enjoying many of the colorful supporting characters Roxanne interacts with, only to find they never turn up again after the one chapter in which they appear. But that, I think, is Roberson’s point. Anyone can write a time-travel story in which a hero goes back to some past or another and hangs out with cool historical personages. Here, There & Everywhere isn’t about the destinations Roxanne reaches, nor is it about her traveling throughout the vast fabric of the Myriad. It’s all about her personal journey of self-discovery, how one woman who appears to have been given a gift beyond price finds that what she has given up may be more valuable. When we find ourselves missing a confidant of Roxanne’s (a Victorian detective stands out in particular), the point is that Roxanne misses him too. 

Some readers might say Roxanne could simply choose not to universe-hop, settle down somewhere, have a family, not be lonely. But Roxanne is driven by deeper compulsions. Possessing the Sofia alone compels her to pursue the mystery of its existence. One obvious plot element — that the old woman who first gave the bracelet to Roxanne was her older self — demonstrates that Roberson (himself an editor) knows where his readership will be on the ball figuring things out, and he steers readers towards the real mysteries (what is this artifact?) rather than contrived ones (like, who was the woman? — well, duh). For instance, the Sofia simply cannot exist in a closed time loop, in which Roxanne just keeps giving it to herself over and over again. It had to come from somewhere, but where?

There is also a metaphorical level at which the story operates, addressing What Makes Us Human without, happily, going all mawkish and maudlin about it. Two particular scenes stand out: one in which Roxanne must finally face the death of her father, knowing that even with her powers there will be little she can do in the end, and another in which she finds herself in a time stream inhabited by one of the few alternate versions of herself (the ones that branched off right at the moment she was about to get the Sofia), and sees what her life might have been like had she married her dream man and had a family of her own. These scenes are bittersweet and moving without pathos, and though the scene where she meets herself might seem driven by an implausible coincidence, the unanswered question is whether or not the Sofia arranged the encounter for Roxanne’s own good.

Here, There & Everywhere is an intelligent, witty and rewarding not-quite-debut from a writer who’s going here, there, and everywhere in our timeline. Roxanne Bonaventure and Sandford Blank would later appear in End of the Century.