Forty Counting Down
Twenty-one Counting Up
By Harry Turtledove
Published by Audible Frontiers
Read by Victor Bevine
These two stories are a pair of connected novellas about a man who, at the age of forty, realizes he ruined his life and chance for love because his one-time marriage had failed. He realizes he was at fault and yearns to go back in time to make things right. To do so, he invents a way to travel back through time and talks his younger self into allowing him to replace him for a couple of months or so, during which he thinks he can cement their relationship with his lost love.
It’s not an entirely original idea in science fiction by any means, but showing the same story from two points of view does make it a little different. My main complaint is that Mister Turtledove did not really do anything original with it. The first story, slim as it is, stands well on its own, but the second does not. If you read Twenty-one Counting Up by itself, you are left wondering just what the older self has on his mind, whereas there is almost nothing to be learned about the younger self that cannot be seen clearly in Forty Counting Down. In fact, the only new information in Twenty-one is the details of how the character gets back together with his first love. However, as we know that from Forty, they do get back together and the details turn out to be amazingly mundane and predictable.
That the older self is going to fail at his intent is obvious from the start. His choice to go back to the point when there is nothing wrong is flawed, which might have been intentional on Mister Turtledove’s part. A basic rule of life: don’t fix what is not broken! If he wanted to repair the relationship he might have done better to go back to a few years later when his younger self is actually married to the woman and just starting to have problems. I think his attempt still would have failed, but it would have been less obvious from the outset.
A point that is hard to accept is that the main character, Justin Kloster, at forty still looks like his twenty-one year old self so identically that even the woman he is having sex with can’t see any differences, save for his performance in bed which she takes in stride, enjoying the ride. Turtledove makes a point that Justin is still getting carded in bars at forty and I suppose that in order to accept the story this man is one of those rare few who don’t look even close to their true age. It’s not impossible, just unusual.
Together, the two stories come off like a Creative Writing class assignment: write the same story twice, but from opposing points of view. It’s an interesting concept and one worth exploring more often, but if that was the objective, too much was given away in Forty to make Twenty-one an interesting story. However, while I did not hate the story, I was a little disappointed. I just expected more from this author. If you are going to tell the same story from two different points of view, I really think those viewpoints should be different, but in this case both versions of Justin not only knew what the other was thinking and how they felt, they used the same words to express it. There just was not enough different between Justin at twenty-one and at forty unless you count learning to cook.
Well, maybe I’ll try something like this someday too, at which point maybe I’ll realize that Harry Turtledove not only did it better but that my criticism is out of place… Maybe.
Victor Bevine, in this recording, actually sounds like a forty-year old who still looks like a man in his twenties, so I think his talents match the story well. There was something about the way he read that at first I did not like, but I couldn’t figure out what it was and I soon became accustomed to it. It’s possible it was just too different from the voice of the previous reader I had been listening to. In a case like that it is not fair to compare.
In any case, he read in a calm and considered pace, neither lagging nor rushing through the stories. He used just enough emotion to imply how the characters felt, though in reality I think some were shrieking from time to time. Also he used no funny voices so I was not jarred by the performance.
So, we have an interesting concept of a story that, while a good idea, could probably been developed a little more and it was read well.