I read and enjoyed Chen’s debut novel Here and Now and Then. It’s a fast-paced and emotional read that took a very science-light take on time travel. In A Beginning at the End he writes about a post-apocalyptic world decimated by a terrible influenza epidemic that has killed almost 3/4 of the world’s people. Now the population is huddled in protective ‘Metro’ areas and roaming the vast open Reclaimed Territories. Six years after the initial epidemic, Chen’s narrative pulls on two main themes, grieving those lost and hope for a new normal.
Three main characters orbit each other as the book begins… Rob is a man who lost is wife to the anxious mobs after the illness’s outbreak, and now is taking care of his precocious daughter, Sunny. The new protective services is threatening to take her away because of regulations placed on protecting children. Krista is an event planner who also supplements her income by taking jobs as a psuedo bounty hunter. And a former child popstar name Moria (Mojo) who was able to use the confusion of the quarantines to escape her overbearing father. All three are dealing with a certain level of post traumatic stress, and take advantage of free and widely available meetings for help.
Chen twists the plot in multiple ways… Moria’s father offers a reward for information leading to her whereabouts. Rob is called into an audit because Sunny is misbehaving at school. And Krista may have a lead on the former Mojo, teeny bopper superstar.
I enjoyed Here and Now and Then so much because of Chen’s brilliant characterization. And his use of tech and science is a way that posits the characters at the center of every decision, not a misplaced wire or expired solenoid. He achieves the same result in this book. I can see it very easily compared to Station Eleven, a book that so many enjoyed because of the focus on the positive human emotions of hope and moral justice.
I kept reading because I cared about these flawed characters. The impetus of this story is all too real, and so is the links to humanity. Another strong piece of writing from my fellow Bay Area resident. (Yep
, I also loved that it is set in San Francisco.)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Thank you to Edelweiss, MIRA books, and the author for an advanced copy for review.