MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  • by Gitabushi

It should be no surprise by now that I like books with good stories, good characters, and ideas that challenge me.  Who doesn’t want to be entertained?  But there are so many options for entertainment, so when I read, I want my mind to get a workout.


This book does that.

To be honest, this book may be generation-locked.  The main character was born in the 1940s, and so is in college in the 1960s, and the culture of the 1960s has an impact on the plot. Growing up in the 1970s myself, I didn’t live 1960s culture…but most of the books I had available growing up were written in the 1960s or early 1970s, and set in the late 1950s and 1960s, so I was familiar with the culture.  For someone who never had to dial a rotary phone or never lived before there was cable TV or microwaves, maybe the book will lack some impact.  I don’t know. If you are one such reader, try it out and let me know.

However, Grimwood does an excellent job capturing the normality of those early times.  The protagonist goes back to his youth, but brings his adult sensibilities with him. And if you can imagine how society has changed just from the introduction of widespread use of the birth control pill, you can imagine how his mature assumptions clash with the culture and society of his youth.

The entire book is written with bedrock-solid descriptions of mainstream life in the United States. It feels real. The characters actions and reactions seem real. The author thinks of aspects I didn’t (and maybe couldn’t) and plays them to the hilt. The result is a book that makes it extremely easy to willingly suspend disbelief. It is easy to get drawn in, to care about the protagonists, what they want to do, and why.

It is also intersting to see things fall apart when the main character gets to experience one of the most common wishes of humankind: “If I knew then what I know now.”  Jeff gets several lifetimes of that wish fulfillment, and it still never turns out like he expects.

From that point of view, the book can be seen as a comfort: you are already doing pretty much the best  you can. More knowledge wouldn’t make your life better, it would just move you along to encounter new problems. Life is life. Stop pining for how things could be different, and start appreciating what you actually have.

In the end, you may get a “Groundhog Day” vibe out of this book, but rest assured: this preceded Groundhog Day by several years.

In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough!  These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.

But first, you have to read this. Find it and read it. Let me know if you think I steered you wrong, but I think you’ll love it as much as I did.

Oh, and give me a review of the review. Did it make you want to read the book? If not, what else should I have included to help persuade you?

Replay Radar


4 thoughts on “MUST READ SFF: Replay, by Ken Grimwood

  1. “In fact, I would like to challenge all writers: Take the premise of this book, or Groundhog Day, or Flash Forward, and write your own stories. We have endless takes on zombies, vampires, young adult dystopias. Enough! These three formats are crying out for additional exploration.”

    This is what grabbed me.

    As for the story itself, you mention that it challenges you and is written in such a way that you can suspend your disbelief. Was it a “fun” read? What emotions did it provoke for you, if any?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was a fun read. Difficult to put down. But it also sent me off on a tizzy of “well, what would *I* do if this happened to me?”
      There are some depressing moments in the book, too. It isn’t an unadulterated romp.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll have to give the book a read. I’m an older fan and experienced the ‘60s first hand. It used to be a little weird to encounter people who didn’t know how to use a manual typewriter (where’s the on switch) or a rotary phone, but as things have moved so far along in the past few decades, the idea of social/cultural/technological obsolescence doesn’t seem so alien after a while. That’s not to say that I am a luddite, quite the opposite. Actually my tech interest goes both ways: I know how to use a gramophone and load a muzzle loading musket. For that matter I taught people to use small computers in the mid 80s – now that’s antique tec.

    If you want to see a challenging film on a similar concept, try Primer (2004) which involves time travel and multiple universes. It seems to be a simple idea, but it becomes very complex and would require a couple of viewings to get the whole thing. I won’t spoil it for you or the other readers. Try not to read the Wikipedia article beforehand as it spoils the ending. It’s better to let the movie expand on its own for better viewing enjoyment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will certainly check out Primer. You gave enough of a description to make it sound interesting, but I appreciate you limiting yourself so we can enjoy the story development with unsullied expectations!


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