In Felson’s debut novel, a young Army volunteer is mysteriously transported through time and space.
Sixteen-year-old Charlie Bradshaw is a fairly typical video game–loving, gung-ho Army private (however, the current minimum age for joining the U.S. Army is 17). His Arkansas family is proud of him, but his fellow grunts tend to make fun of him for his extreme youth and naïveté. He’s training on base one day when a freak storm barrels through, and a thunderous tornado snatches Charlie up and appears to disintegrate him. Twenty-one years later, he falls out of the sky, unconscious, onto a San Francisco beach, where a jogging couple finds him. Charlie hasn’t aged—he’s still a teenager—but many things about the world around him have changed: Miniaturized digital technology is everywhere, cars and homes run on electric or solar power instead of fossil fuels, childbirth is regulated by law, and the air is full of free-floating advertising. Paul arrives in a deep coma, and even before he awakens, he becomes a celebrity, the focus of a messianic cult convinced he’s a harbinger of the end of the world. He becomes the unconscious star of The Beach Boy Real Show, a reality TV show orchestrated entirely around viewers waiting for him to wake up. Just as the Army is finally managing to identify him from decades-old records, Charlie wakes up from his coma with no memories of his past but with a vision of the future: He vividly “remembers” a major California earthquake that hasn’t yet happened. News that the “coma kid on TV” has awakened causes a media sensation, and the resulting religious mania engulfs Charlie as the story steadily escalates toward the massive earthquake Charlie had predicted (and which his religious followers naturally view as Judgment Day). Felson manages the increasing pace and momentum of his fairly simple plot with a good deal of readable prose, eventually rolling out a series of unpredictable turns that play human drama against the backdrop of looming natural catastrophe. The dialogue can be rough and stilted in some places, and Charlie himself remains a cipher throughout, but the exciting climax makes up for it.
Sometimes too straightforward, yet still an enjoyable time-travel thriller.