Replay – by Ken Grimwood

Here is a unique book in a number of respects:

  1. How I came to know about it, even though it was written in 1986.
  2. How it fits into my recent readings (time travel stories).
  3. How some of the effects in the book reminded me of effects in The Accidental Time Machine.
  4. How some of the passages remind me of my own life.

Over the holidays, my friend Brian and I talked about books, and he told me about Replay. I said I’d look for it, but as it goes with such conversations, I forgot the title and never ended up following through. One Monday morning I arrived at my desk and it was in my inbox. He must have come by my office and dropped it off for me while I was out of town.

I love reading stories with time travel or similar effects and this book fits the genre perfectly. If you search this blog for books, you will find The Fermata, Time Pressure, The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Accidental Time Machine, all out of that category. I’d love to write a book like this.

Now I have to talk about the effect. First, you must note that the author published the book in 1986, smack in the middle of the Reagan administration. The protagonist is Jeff Winston, a man born in 1945 who started going to college in 1963. He became a newspaper journalist, had a mediocre life, an unsatisfying marriage, mostly due to lack of resources. He died of a massive heart attack on October 18, 1988 at 1:06pm.

Much to his surprise and causing utter disorientation, he ‘wakes up’ in his college dorm room in 1963. After some serious confusion and bewilderment, he figures out that he is simply placed back in his old life, 25 years earlier, with all the characters of his old life still there, and they don’t have a clue. To them, this is just life. He, however, remembers everything. For instance, he remembers the outcome of a horse race with very long odds. So he scrapes up all the cash he can find, a few hundred dollars, bets it all on the horse, and wins $12,000. A few more bets on horses and the World Series, and he has a few million dollars. He does not have to try hard with the stock market before he is a very wealthy young man.

Eventually he makes his way to 1988 again, leading a totally different life this time around, only to die again and to wake up in 1963 a third time. There is a minor issue: there is ‘the skew.’ Every time he goes back in time he drops forward a little bit. So when he arrived in 1963 the first time, it was May 1963. The next time it was a few days later. Then it was months later, and so on. The replays kept getting shorter on a logarithmic scale. This is an interesting effect somewhat analogous to Haldeman’s Accidental Time Machine, where the jumps are on a linear multiple factor, both spatially as well as temporally.

I don’t want to tell you more about the story or the plot in case you want to read this, so I will leave it at this. But I do want to elaborate on how there are passages that remind me of my own life.

There is a subplot that involves dolphins and dolphin research, which was of particular interest to me in the 1988 time frame, when I was seriously considering going back to college for Cognitive Science. I wanted to use computer science (the field I was in), coupled with linguistics (having studied six languages myself) and alien intelligence (dolphins) to research human / dolphin communications. I never ended up in that field, partly due to lack of resolve on my part, and excuses that I had small children at the time that needed the attention, and economics – I couldn’t afford to take time off to start another career. During that time in my life, I read Dr. Lilly’s books on dolphin intelligence and studied up on his research of dolphin linguistics.

In Replay, one of the characters creates a major popular movie, named Starsea, that centers around dolphins, which in turn inspires a young student to study Lilly’s work, linguistics and computer science and work at U.C. San Diego in Marine Biology. Reading that was eerie, this could have been myself, and to think about Grimwood writing about that at the same time I was considering such a career, but finding out now, in 2009, had me marvel about synchronicity.

Incidentally, if you are interested in fascinating science fiction involving sentient dolphins, read David Brin’s uplift series, starting with Startide Rising.

Back to Replay: This was a hugely entertaining book, well written, an inspiring story with a good message to boot.

P.S. Ken Grimwood died of an apparent heart attack  at the age of 59 on June 6, 2003 at his home in Santa Barbara.

2 thoughts on “Replay – by Ken Grimwood

  1. I enjoyed your review of REPLAY. I agree, it is fun when you read a book and the author seems to be writing about your life. Since you were/are fascinated with dolphins and sea life, I would definitely recommend that you read Ken Grimwood’s INTO THE DEEP. In a nutshell, INTO THE DEEP is STARSEA from REPLAY. It can still be found at used book dealers (;, etc.). Enjoy.


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