#308—Reprise by Zilla Novikov

There are several types of readers I feel Reprise is aimed at, and the Venn diagram of those types all overlap with me except for one: post-graduate academics.

But when it comes to things like geek culture, both in terms of fandom for a wildly popular TV show and in terms of playing roleplaying games, I’m right there with them.

That is one of the more interesting aspects of this novel. Unlike other books I’ve reviewed that dealt with elements of geek culture, this neither has the geek element feel like window dressing (like in Fangirl), nor does the geek element revolve around its heart, like in Roll for Initiative.

Instead, the geek element is entwined within the lives of the characters as naturally as (perhaps) it is in yours. It is presented as a part of their world in science and academia. A reference point used for context while discussing their research.

Researching what, you ask? The answer is, time loops!

Reprise is a darkly comedic story set in the world of academia and applied science, where the pressure to produce results is constant and the results being looked for might be of a questionable nature.

That’s where our protagonist comes in. Eddy Courant is a woman with a struggling academic career who is offered the chance to work directly in the field of time loops instead of just theorizing about them.

Along the way, she ends up becoming very friendly with the Gagnon family (and in the case of his wife, very friendly). They have watch parties of the insanely popular urban fantasy TV show Night Beats, and weekly Dungeons & Dragons gaming sessions, which end up being part of the story.

This novel is a slow burn, and those interested should be ready for that. Things don’t really start to crank up in terms of stakes until the last third, when the experiments being conducted get far more morally questionable.

Before that, you’re on a journey of getting to know Eddy, François Gagnon, his wife Mara, their son Joseph, and Eddy’s colleagues. It’s a character driven novel first and foremost, with a very complex and (entertainingly) morally dubious main character.

Despite being set firmly in the realm of science, research, and academia, don’t look for any kind of explanation as to how the time machine in question works. It’s not important. What’s important is how they use it (and later abuse it).

Imagine the following scenario: You can travel back in time several hours, but nothing you do will carry over to your present. And once you leave, that “other” timeline ceases to exist altogether. What would be the value of such a thing?

Well, you could, for example, safely test new pharmaceuticals there. Nobody in the real timeline is going to suffer ill side effects. In fact, everyone in the real timeline would get placebos.

Now, let’s take that one step further, because the logical progression of that idea is that fatal side effects don’t matter, either. In fact, you can do whatever you like to someone in this other timeline and it simply won’t matter, because once the loop is over, it will never have existed.

As you can imagine, this can get real dark real fast.

It also suggests other things you could do consequence free… like robbing an art museum, or seducing your boss’s wife.

It’s rather appropriate that D&D features prominently in the story, since it gives me an excuse to characterize Eddy as Chaotic Neutral. Not in the stereotypical “insane” or “wildly erratic” way, but simply in the sense that Eddy’s interests always revolve around Eddy at any given moment. She’s not evil, and she certainly doesn’t follow the law (not when there is such a convenient way to break it consequence-free), but it’s not like she’s not the Joker, either. She has a sense of morality. It’s just not always easy to find.

If there is a failing in Novikov’s writing style, it’s how her story always feels like it hasn’t quite given you enough information before it jumps to the next scene. I was often left with a sense of “what just happened?” going back to reread the scene to see if I had missed something, and just trusting it would make sense by the end.

It does, but that doesn’t help with my occasional frustration along the way. Many times a scene was set up so that I knew something happened, but the what was considered less important than reaction to it. That’s a writing technique I use as well, just not nearly as often!

I feel like Zilla and I have shared similar nerdy experiences in life, enough that I get where she’s going ninety percent of the time. But once in a while something comes up and I’m left thinking the reference would have made perfect sense to someone else… just not me.

This book is ideal for those who have pursued post-graduate studies or worked in the field of scientific or academic research. It’s also a fun read for those with a black sense of humor, or who like to see gaming and nerd culture positively represented.

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