While it may not have been a box office success, the praise afforded to Edge of Tomorrow indicates that there’s still mileage in the Groundhog Day concept. This shouldn’t be surprising. It’s a SFnal idea that’s ripe with dramatic and comedic potential. The liberty bestowed to someone who is self aware and stuck in a time loop – you can do anything to anyone (including yourself) and get away with it – is also the loop’s curse – without consequences to our actions life quickly stops having meaning.
Jack Skillingstead is aware of all this, both the story potential and the fact that the concept is not, yet, tapped out. Life on The Preservation, based on Skillingstead’s 2006 short story of the same name, is set in Seattle on a single day in 2012 that keeps repeating. Ian, a twenty something graffiti artist who is still coping with the suicide of his mother when he was a young boy, is made aware of the time loop by his gamer friend Zach.
But that’s only part of the story. Unwilling to cover similar ground to other writers who’ve played in the Groundhog Day sandpit, Skillingstead decides to throw an alien invasion, post-humanism, post apocalyptic Earth and time travel (beyond just the loop) into the mix.
A couple of these science fiction tropes are picked up in the story-line that, for the first half of the novel, runs alongside Ian’s plight in Seattle. We’re told the story of Kylie and her struggle to survive in a post apocalyptic Earth where most of the population is either dead or dying from a plague. Kylie happens to be the one healthy person in town, which angers the local lunatic, Father Jim. He decides that the only way to deal with Kylie and her health is to circumcise her. After escaping Father Jim’s clutches, Kylie and her sick boyfriend decide to make their toward the strange dome covering Seattle.
Of the two story-lines, Ian’s section is the more intriguing mostly because of the Groundhog Day phenomena and partly because of hints of an alien presence that might be manipulating events.
The sections involving Kylie are not as gripping. This isn’t the fault of Kylie who I found to be the strongest character in the novel, but rather the post apocalyptic setting which is really no different than any other post apocalyptic setting I’ve encountered. It’s not helped by Father Jim, the mustache twirling villain of the piece who is quite happy to employ sexual violence (he’d previously raped Kylie before the apocalypse) just to show us how bad he is. It’s all a bit tasteless and generic and if not for Kylie’s unwillingness to relent, or for that matter the sections dealing with Ian and Seattle, I’m not sure I could have continued with the book.
Things do rocket along though and in Part Two of the novel Kylie and Ian meet. A love story ensues, which while predictable makes sense within the context of the novel. Sadly for Ian, and the novel, Kylie vanishes seemingly taking the plot with her. The book stalls for the second half of Part Two as the Groundhog Day element again comes to the foreground and Ian and his friends (including his sister) go back to treading the same old ground – is this all real? Will I remember what happened during the previous time loop?
Fortunately things pick up again in Part Three. I won’t explain how why, but the actual climax is more then satisfying. Even the re-emergence of Father Jim isn’t as annoying as I thought it might be.
Overall, while Life on The Preservation could have lost its flabby middle and done without Father Jim and his penchant for female circumcision, the mash-up of SFnal ideas and some decent character work makes for an entertaining read. I’m interested to see what Skillingstead does next.