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Jeff Winston, a 43 year old radio journalist of (at best) modest accomplishments going through the motions of a lack-luster marriage, dies of cardiac arrest in 1988. To his shock, he opens his eyes and returns to consciousness in 1963 in the very healthy young male body of his former 25 year old self. Without ever knowing the reason it has happened, he comes to grips with his situation and realizes that all of his adult experience, his adult wisdom and his awareness of events to come remain intact.
Of course, with that advance knowledge of the outcome of major sports events and the growth of companies such as IBM, Apple and Sony, Jeff finds it simple, through strategic gambling and investments, to quickly amass a spectacular fortune and become one of the wealthiest men in the world. After his attempts to "re-meet" his wife fail, Winston simply opts for a life of sexual decadence with someone he meets in one of the Las Vegas casinos. Despite the high life he is now enjoying, Jeff clearly recalls the pain of his "death" by heart attack and so he is also most careful to hold himself to the highest standards of cardiac health. But, like the events around which he accumulated his wealth, Jeff discovers that the event of his death in 1988 is also unavoidable and he again dies with a painful heart attack.
Awakening again in 1963, Jeff realizes that he is trapped in an endless cycle of death and re-birth and that, yet another time, he is faced with the choice of how to live the next 25 years of his truncated and ever-repeating life. In his second life (or was it his third or fourth cycle?), he meets Pamela Phillips, a world-acclaimed film-maker. Because of certain anachronisms that don't fit with his knowledge of how world history unrolls in the turbulent decade of the 1960s, Jeff realizes that Phillips is also a "re-player", another person trapped in her own cycle of death and re-birth. Pamela and Jeff discover their love for one another, re-discover that love in one "replay" after another and attempt to make the best of the opportunities offered them to improve their lives and the lives of those around them!
The subjective moral of Grimwood's text in "Replay" is clear enough! Strike an appropriate, comfortable balance between a purely hedonistic self-centered life focused on the present and a life focused on what might be, what is yet to come and the benefit of family, friends and the world around you. The difficulty with this balance rests with the realization that life is both tenuous and finite. We never know when the ending will arrive. The objective message, much easier to understand but perhaps equally difficult to implement in a real world setting is to twist your knickers only around those issues over which you actually have control. Nothing else is worth dwelling upon in terms of mental or physical stress and effort!
There has been much debate over whether "Replay" is more appropriately labeled "sci-fi" or "fantasy". Personally, I'll opt for fantasy as Grimwood made no attempt to discuss or hypothesize a mechanism for the re-playing phenomenon. At the same time, I'm going to deduct one star from its rating for a sci-fi quibble. Grimwood chose to fix Winston's and Phillip's baseline of experiences, knowledge and history at the level of their first life. As a sci-fi fan comfortable with the multi-worlds concept, I didn't see any reason to favour one world over another. As both Phillips and Winston re-played their lives in a linear fashion, there was no obvious fundamental reason to suggest that, of necessity, they would be re-born in their "first" universe. Why not their second, third or indeed a universe that they had yet to experience?
Small potatoes worry about a wonderful story! "Replay" is a heart-warming thought-provoking morality tale that will resonate with any thinking reader. Highly recommended.
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