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Trap Door to Heaven

by Lesley Choyce

Lesley Choyce is a writer who likes a wide scope, having written 40 books in his 40 years. Most of us, one suspects, would have run out of things to say long before book 40. Not Choyce. His new book, Trap Door to Heaven, offers a wide scope in itself, covering the reincarnations of a single soul over many millennia.

This is a challenging book, especially for those who like chronological order. Each chapter offers a different incarnation, in times and places only loosely identified, but widely separated. The main character is a Micmac boy encountering Europeans for the first time, a rebellious student disconnecting himself from the central computer, a woman who is willing to be thought a witch if she can save children from joining the crusades, and many more.

Trap Door to Heaven bears about the same relation to the conventional novel form as Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Some readers will admire Choyce’s footloose style, while others may crave the toeholds of a more traditional form. But there is no shortage of originality within chapters. Some pieces read like the best speculative fiction, pushing the reader’s imagination to the limits of the possible, and then a little further. This is especially true of “Best of Both Worlds,” in which the daughter of the man who invented effortless travel begins to realize that a world of perfect people with infinite leisure time is not necessarily a good thing.

The reincarnation theme asserts itself only gradually, since memories and character traits disappear from one life to the next. But sometimes, between incarnations, the soul encounters a being called “the servant” who understands and explains. Also, in the story “Patches,” the rebellious students who disconnect themselves from the central computer remember past lives. This story, unfortunately, stretches credibility by having the students recall past lives in which their current friends play major roles.

There is much to admire in Trap Door to Heaven, but the book suffers for the bluntness of its characterization. The powerful are always stupid and cruel, and those who oppose them have remarkably modern attitudes towards authority, even when living in ancient times. This heavy-handedness takes the shine off the book. A bit of moral ambiguity would have given it more polish and depth.