Time Travel Done Oh So Right: Cassie-la Campaigns for “Taft 2012” by Jason Heller

Taft 2012 by Jason Heller (Advanced Reader Copy)
Release Date: January 17, 2012
Genre: Science fiction, politics, humor, satire, he might be a walrus/some other aquatic animal
Rating: 4.56 out of 5 stars

Summary: In a time when the political landscape is a war zone, former president William Howard Taft inexplicably arrives in the 21st century to change politics for the better. Armed with a conservative viewpoint and a desire to return to simpler times, Taft finds himself the unwitting leader of the Taft Party as he struggles to understand a new generation and make the best of his second chance. This election: vote Taft.

The current political situation is indeed a mess, as evidenced by a petition I and my fellow Bibliomantics recently signed asking for a woman to be included in a committee on birth control coverage. I most often rail against the Republican party, for obvious reasons (pro-life, no tax hikes on the rich, anti-gay marriage, etc) but Heller make his inclusion of a return to original Republican values seem like a pretty damn good option for our country. The party was much different than the bigoted, money fueled machine it is today- remember, Lincoln was Republican.

This is where William Howard Taft comes in. He is so different from what we currently know of the Republican party that in modern America, he becomes his own party: the Taft party, with a focus on conservative ideals. You can take a lesson from the values of Taft, Governor Chris Christie. You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re not my governor.

The novel opens in the year 2011, when William Howard Taft appears in the White House fountain, 98 years after disappearing off the face of the earth. So much alternate timeline love. He has no knowledge of how this happened, but one thing is for sure: the world needs him. Upon first witnessing his arrival, the Secret Service are convinced he is either an intruder, a large animal, or someone who “looked like some sort of deranged presidential history buff dressed up as William Howard Taft.” Still others believed his appearance to be the “oddest terrorist attack in history”. Despite confusion if he was a sea creature, one thing was for sure: Taft was back.

It is hard to imagine that our government would make the world aware of the actual existence of time travel, even more so if you’re a conspiracy buff, but Heller explains this by saying the event is televised. Televised appearance of historical figure = inability to commit conspiracy. Still, you think the FBI would explain this as swamp gas or the government testing some sort of anti-terrorist device, anything but explaining to the world that the 27th president is alive and well in the 21st century. That’s the point of science fiction though, suspending your disbelief. Be prepared to suspend it people!

While Taft is most certainly not the most well known president, Heller tackles him anyway. Not literally of course. Besides being famously known as the president who had to have a special bathtub made for him because he got stuck in the standard one on his inauguration day (an anecdote most children learn in elementary/middle school), Heller also informs us Taft was the first president to throw out a starting pitch at a baseball game and the last one to have a mustache. Despite this and possibly for these reasons, he wasn’t regarded as the most successful president, serving only one term and being derailed when president Roosevelt created his own offshoot of the Republican party (The Bull Moose Party). A lot of groundwork is laid to explain that while not right for the time, Taft would be more than successful in another time. Specifically, ours. He’s a living anachronism, ridiculous mustache and all.

The world in Taft 2012 is slightly altered from our current reality. The former president has a great granddaughter named Rachel Taft, a Congresswoman (fictional) who runs in the independent party (an independent would never be voted into Congress) who ends up being Taft’s Vice Presidential candidate in the Taft Party. Strangest of all is the existence of a movie called President Kane, an obvious riff on Citizen Kane. Filmmaker Orson Welles wanted to make a film about newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst, but due to a lack of backing (no one wanted to go against Hearst) made one based on Taft and his disappearance instead. It went on to be deemed the worst film ever made, and ruined Orson Welles’ career. Which is pretty bad assuming Plan 9 From Outer Space currently exists.

Food is also in a different place in this alternate timeline. Nothing seems to be regulated, and food is made from more and more synthetic materials, headed by a maniacal man named Fulsom and his corporation which makes disturbing products such as the digestive nightmare Turk-ease. On a road trip, Taft takes a foray into molecular gastronomy, which isn’t what we know it to be from “Top Chef”. Instead, molecular gastronomy is processing processed foods in even more processed ways, i.e. making processed Turk-ease into even more processed hamburger buns. Gag me with a spoon.

That’s not to say this world isn’t anything like the one we know today. The main similarity between our world and this alternate one (besides obvious things like technology and societal changes) is that Obama seems to still be our current leader. While the president is unnamed, we know he’s a tall, slim African American and that his wife is currently running an obesity campaign, so it’s safe to say it is Obama without actually naming him. The same can be said for a lot or Republican candidates trying to fight for the presidency. Fans of politics will have fun with all the subtle jabbing and name calling at our current presidential hopefuls.

Rather than just have straight on prose, Heller inter-splices his novel with a range of secondary documents, from the amusing to the downright crazy. We are shown letters, classified documents, polls, book excerpts, television transcripts, etsy listings, etc, etc. The only things funnier than these documents are Taft’s adjustment to the new world he finds himself in. He spends time figuring out how they stuff the cream inside Twinkies, how Mr. Google came to be so intelligent, the amazing technology that revolves around Wii Golf, and an inability to understand the 140 character rule on Twitter.

Interestingly enough, a lot of viral marketing was done through social media sites, set up by Quirk Books (www.taft2012.com and @taft2012 for example), bringing some of the fictional aspects of the book to life.

THE GOOD:
-Funny, humorous look at the current political landscape
-Hit homes in terms of what Americans want from their candidates, Heller does good job of making the story as realistic as possible
-Get to see someone from 1913 navigate modern technology and societal changes
-Integration of notes and transcripts, as opposed to straight prose

THE BAD:
-There are just some things you just don’t want to image Taft doing
-Not a big fan of speeches, watching or reading (there are quite a few, for obvious reasons)

Taft 2012: Book Trailer

Oh Quirk Books, you really do make the best book trailers. ❤ ❤ ❤ Although Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters will forever be my favorite.

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