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Time and Chance
by Alan Brennert
Tor, $14.99, 400pp
Release Date: July 5, 2011

This is actually a well-deserved re-issuing of a 1990 novel; if you feel a sense of déjà vu as you read, it may be that you encountered the hardback publication twenty years ago. This also explains the slightly archaic descriptions of Broadway theatre life, which has been thriving lately, not languishing as described in the opening scene. Apart from such minor points, this story is as timely and timeless as ever, dealing as it does with choices, regrets, second chances, and consequences.

Alan Brennert wrote scripts for The New Twilight Zone shows of the 1980s, so he is adept at exploring the dilemmas inherent in the stories of Richard Cochrane and Rick Cochrane, living two of the myriad lives possible to one man across the multiverses, each of them regretting the pivotal choice he made and eager to experience his other self’s opportunities. Richard wants the happiness of a family and the stability an actor foregoes; Rick wants the freedom and creative expressiveness that a workaday man with obligations has foresworn.

The unspoken corollary to Brennert’s narrative is that there are other versions of Richard, who have made lesser choices along the way that distinguish them from these two, but with the most important difference that they are not looking over their shoulders, saying to themselves, “If only, if only….” It is the strong yearning for each other’s lives that draws these singular two men, Richard and Rick, into his alternate’s life; only to find, as so many switched minds have found, that while the missed opportunities may hold many pleasant, anticipated delights, there are unpleasant, unanticipated hardships in attendance, not to mention pesky, unexpected consequences.

The idea of an exchange is so popular that it has taken many forms, from stories and TV shows to feature films like Mr. Destiny or Sliding Doors, and all the Freaky Friday variants. (The original books are pretty good, and hold up well.) Most of us hunger at some time or another for a “What if…” alternative to our lives, or at the very least wonder about what lies along the roads not taken. And while obsessing over missed chances is dangerous (“…Or wonder, ‘til it drives you mad, /What would have followed if you had”), consideration of alternatives has the virtue of being mind-opening, soul-expanding. And reading about another person’s misadventures and discoveries can help us come to terms with our own choices, and see with fresh eyes the opportunities that remain to us. – Chris R. Paige

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