A few months back, we started a little investigation into time travel fiction, reviewing Crichton’s Timeline and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine. I also started listening to the audiobook of Stephen King’s time travel story, 11/22/63.
Well, I finally finished it. Better late than never, right?
So did it take such a long time because it was boring? That would be unfair. There were parts in the middle that started to drag a little, but overall, the book ended on a pretty exciting note.
So is this audiobook worth a listen? Read on to see our review!
A high school English teacher named Jake Epping discovers a random portal that transports him to a specific time and place in the past. He realizes that he can use this portal to go back in time and prevent the Kennedy assassination.
Various sci-fi movies and stories have approached the mechanics of time travel in different ways. Time machines, cataclysmic events, faster-than-light travel—these are just a few of the ways that characters in sci-fi move through time.
Personally, I feel that portals can be the most logically-consistent method of time travel, assuming that they are fixed in time and relative to a specific location on Earth.
So in this regard, 11/22/63 was off to a good start.
Time as a Character With Agency
Where the story started to go wrong was when time itself became the primary antagonist.
Time isn’t a person. Time can’t make choices. When Epping starts wrestling against Time’s unexplained motivation to ‘preserve the continuity of events,’ that doesn’t make much sense.
And when Epping changes the past and saves President Kennedy, somehow Time responds by creating earthquakes? What is Time, some kind of super-powered villain now?
The Weird Gaslighting
The strangest part of this book, to me, was that King apparently didn’t do his research when it came to the politics of the civil rights movement.
Everything else seemed so meticulously researched, so it was a shock when we found out that Southern Republicans were the ones who opposed civil rights.
Spoiler Alert: historically, Southern Democrats opposed civil rights.
I don’t know King’s personal politics, but the only explanation that I can imagine for this mistake is adherence to faulty assumptions. Or maybe King was writing to an audience who believed that Southern Democrats led the civil rights movement, and who still believe that Republicans are the racists in America.
Such a pity that such a cursory Google search can prove this paradigm completely wrong.
The Ending (Spoilers Redacted)
During his very first trip into the past, Epping encounters the ‘Yellow-Card Man.’ It’s an interesting little mystery, and the reader is induced into believing that this is simply a senile homeless person.
Toward the end, we find out that this man was actually a time-keeper, or some kind of guardian of the timeline. It’s a fascinating revelation that really adds intrigue to the mythology of this story.
The Recommendation: 4 / 5 Stars.
Although 11/22/63 has some historically-inaccurate political positions, those are minor and don’t take up much of the narrative.
In fact, a lot of the narrative follows some minor plot threads, like Epping’s new romance in the past, and his impact on young students of the late 50s. These are interesting, but ultimately slow down the main plot.
Unlike most of King’s books, the mythology is reduced to a minor role in this book. Time travel is only brought up at the beginning and at the end of the book.
Despite these minor complaints, I still enjoyed 11/22/63, and found that I couldn’t put it down when I got to the end.
If you love the conversations that develop surrounding time travel, and the morality, logic, and philosophy of time travel, then stay tuned for Sparrow’s upcoming short story, RetConMan! And subscribe down below to get all of our future reviews and updates!