Fiction Reviews


(2011) Stephen King, Hodder, £7.99, pbk, 740pp, ISBN 978-1-444-72733-3


Stephen King turns to science fiction, well it is actually science fantasy, in this 2011 time travel thriller first published in paperback in the British Isles in 2012.

I should point out at this stage that this is only the second Stephen King book I have read, and the first that I have reviewed: up to now Tony has reviewed all the Stephen King books that have come our way. So one thing I cannot do is to say how 11.22.63 compares with the rest of his ouvre. I can, though, say that the man can write, but then I suspect that given King's reputation that most of you may already know this.

A burger diner holds a secret in that it contains a portal back to a specific time in 1958. Just think of the things you could do? And Al, the diner's owner, just does that pondering the most significant thing he could do would be to stop President John F. Kennedy getting assassinated in 1963.

However there is a problem. The portal only will take someone from the present to a specific time in 1963 and each time someone makes a trip, comes back and then makes another trip, the timeline is reset. (This gets around paradoxes such as a time traveller from the present meeting another of their time-travelling selves.) Though there is a benefit in that each time trip takes just two minutes irrespective of how long the traveller stays back in the past.

There is another problem. Al has cancer and is dying: he will not live long enough to last the years between 1958 (the fixed end of the portal) to 1963 the date of the assassination.

So Al cast around and decides that one of his patrons, Jake Epping an English teacher, might do the deed and so Al confides in Jake.

Jake is at first sceptical but then goes along with the idea of saving Kennedy. However they need to test the idea that it will be possible to prevent someone from getting killed. As it happens, one of Jake's adult pupils had an abusive father who committed murder and at a time closer to 1958 than 1963. And so the adventure begins with an experimental run…

Stephen King writes in an easy-to-read, folksy style. He also clearly has done much research on the US in the late 1950s. But I suspect that being resident in N. America, and having had a childhood in the 1950s, helped more than a little. This makes this time travel story a far better read than lesser researched yarns (such as the recent, and perplexingly Hugo Award-winning, Blackout). So in addition to the fantastical thriller elements, there is also a nostalgia trip to enjoy, and here even as a foreign Brit (who most likely missed a good number of the cultural references) I began to appreciate.

I say that this is science fantasy. Much of the book reads like a Ray Bradbury story in that the time travel element seems magical even though there is an SFnal riff that shines through. (Without spoiling things let me just say that this SFnal riff gets a little stronger.) And so there is enough for the seasoned SF reader, from the off, to start thinking about paradoxes and oddities. 'Nuff said.) My only gripe is that, at some 740 pages, it is a little long but then some people like length; personally I do not as length tends to veer towards bloat even if the padding is well crafted. Nonetheless this is a book that I am sure for some US citizens will consider remarkable given as it centres on a key point in the United States' short history.

Sadly, unlike Blackout, 11.22.63 was not nominated for a Hugo even though it is clearly, to my mind, a clearly superior (even if to my mind an over-long) novel. Nor, as far as I am aware, has King ever received a Hugo even though his fantastical horror stories have been best-sellers. This probably tells you more about Hugo Award voters than it does about King's writing. Suffice to say, if like me, you do not regularly include King in your SF/F diet, then perhaps you might like to try him out with 11.22.63.

Jonathan Cowie

See Peter's take on 11.22.63.

Other Stephen King reviews on this site include: Bag of Bones, Black House, Cell,Wizard and Glass: The Dark Tower 4, The Dark Tower Vol.7, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer, Dream Catcher, Duma Key, Everything's Eventual, From a Buick 8, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey’s Story, Song of Susannah and Wolves of the Calla. For other reviews (including more recent King ones) see the fiction reviews index which is alphabetical by author (link below).

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