Millennium

[This is a book review of Millennium by John Varley, first published in 1983.]

"All time travelers are pessimists."

When I was a kid and on a plane for the first time (that I recall), I was thinking about plane crashes, and a science fiction plot popped into my head. It was about people from the future stealing people from planes that were about to crash, and replacing them with dead bodies. I never figured out why people from the future would be doing such a thing other than the obvious life-saving, of course, but I thought of it every time I got on a plane. And I never mentioned it to anyone.

Some time later as an adult, I picked up a second-hand copy of a book called Millennium by John Varley, a writer I'd never heard of, and was thrilled as well as mildly weirded out that he'd written a book about my airplane time travel fantasy. And it was so much better than I ever could have imagined. It's one of my favorite novels.

Like many works of science fiction, Millennium is on its face about the human race inevitably destroying itself. But for me, Millennium is much more about two flawed, valiant people from different times who are still trying every day to do their best and save the world. Bill Smith is a burned out National Transportation Safety Board agent. While investigating a massive double plane crash, he discovers some inexplicable anomalies that slowly lead him toward the discovery of a bizarre conspiracy. Along the way, he encounters a strange, beautiful woman named Louise Baltimore from an unimaginable future. Louise and Bill tell their stories in first person and in different order. And of course, in different timelines.

Millennium was published in 1983 and the crash investigation stuff, while obviously well-researched and interesting to read, is now dated. And I must confess that Bill Smith as a character has never done a lot for me. But Louise Baltimore is unforgettable. Her courage in facing her extreme circumstances, her humor, and her unusual relationship with Sherman the ever-changing android are what got me looking for Varley's other works. It's difficult to talk about Louise and her life in the future without spoiling the book for you, but it's definitely the heart of the story and what I've always found most captivating.

Two more things. The chapter titles are all the titles of classic time travel novels and short stories, and there are many homages. I really loved that. And they made a movie based on this book. I've seen it, and I didn't love that. Forget about it. It's terrible. Cheryl Ladd as Louise Baltimore? Come on.

For the book, though? Four out of four alarm clocks,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

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