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Paradox Bound
by Peter Clines
Crown Archtype, HB $26.00, 373 pages
Published: June 2018

Real, the Dream, but lost.
Deadly Guardians pursue
those who search through time.

What if the American Dream were a literal reality, with a tangible manifestation? What if that Dream, empowering and powered by people's willingness to create a new life, were lost? And what if whoever found it could reshape America according to their wishes?  With this fantastic, splendid premise, Peter Clines, author of the Ex-Heroes series, is off and running.

Eli Teague is a young boy when he first sees an odd person tending an unusual looking car on the side of the road of his home town in Maine. Inquisitive and helpful, the boy is intrigued by the anomaly, but what happens next puts a serious scare into him and salts his sense of wonder.  Years later, a second encounter with the strange car and stranger driver reawakens his curiosity, and their departure leaves him bereft.

He doesn't forget. Instead, he prepares himself for a possible third encounter. His friends are amused by his extensive knowledge of the make and model of old cars. They urge him to move to the city and get a better life. But Eli is holding himself in readiness for a small possibility, and one night he glimpses what he's been waiting for all the intervening years: the mysterious car, the anachronistic driver named Harry. But being as ready as he can make himself isn't enough, and for a third time he's left standing on the side of the road as the car takes off. This time, however, Harry's stopover didn't go unnoticed; and the next day, when a faceless man interrogates Eli about the car, the visitor, and the driver's destination, Eli realizes that the terrible still pursues the wonderful. So he sets out to intercept Harry, deliver a warning, and find out what possible explanation there can be for cars that run on water, men who can speak without mouths, and a quest that skips up and down the timeline of America's history. 

Things go horribly wrong, of course, and Eli learns the hard way that getting your wish may be the worst thing that can happen to you, and even worse for anyone standing nearby. But it also turns out that Eli has a real knack for noticing significant details, and for registering the significance of the absence of details - a talent honed, perhaps, by all that memorization of automotive facts and details. So after a rough start, he becomes a bona fide Searcher, trying to elude the persistent, frustrated, and very determined former guardians, who perceive all time-travelers as threats to be neutralized before any of them find the Dream and take control of it. 

The title is perfect. Are the protagonists on their way to discover a paradox, or are they constrained by one? The title is also evocative of several songs, "Homeward Bound" and other songs of the road, and that too is appropriate, as the main characters travel over many roads in an enhanced Model A Ford business coupe with a modified Garrett carburetor, or in a train conducted by none other than John Henry. Yup, THAT John Henry. According to the Afterword, several significant characters are based on people who were also, in their day, American dreamers.

This is a well-written, exciting adventure, with great characters, sharp plot twists, you-are-there descriptions, and revelations that drop like golden clues. I consider Paradox Bound one of the best SF books of 2017.  ~~ Chris Wozney

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