In Metrachronopolis time is cheap. It’s a city existing outside of time and all of its possible timelines, ruled over absolutely by near omnipotent Time Wardens. The Time Wardens have populated it with people that catch their interest, mostly famous people. Which is about where you would start groaning, if you were me. Thankfully Wright avoids most of the cutesiness that tends to permeate that sort of thing, and we just have to hear about the “Blues sid[ing] with Richelieu and the Capone Gang, and the Greens t[aking] up with Hannibal and Billy the Kid’s outfit.”
The main celebrities are Marilyn Monroe—one of the Helens of Troy—and JFK (Queequeg from Moby Dick makes a cameo appearance). The first person narrator is more prosaic. Jake is a former cop (from the 40s, giving the story a noir feel) and the sort of guy that if you pull a knife on him, will take it out of your hand and leave it in your eye. He also carries just about the coolest gun you’ve ever read of.
“I looked down at my gun, which was now in my hand. It was a Police Special. What I held in my fist was just the aiming unit, the emission aperture and the firing controls. The real weapon was the size of a warehouse sitting in a null-time vacuole in the fourth-and-a-half dimension, halfway past next Tuesday or somewhere beyond the second star to the right, with atomic piles and dynamos and batteries of big guns and futuristic zap-rays and a whole arsenal of various brands of death and maiming and unhappiness. It could blow a hole in the Moon or pick the left wing off a housefly landing on the Washington Monument from the Empire State Building, and never mind the curvature of the Earth or the prevailing winds. It was that good.”
Unfortunately, the man from whom JFK demands Jake defends Marilyn’s honor comes backed by a Tin Woodman, an automaton rendered effectively invincible by its ability to rewind time five minutes at will. The fight that follows is as good as time travel fiction gets.
The Plural of Helen of Troy is told first-person from Jake’s POV. He chooses to tell it from the end to the beginning. The section labeled the “end” covers the most ground, and if Wright had left it at that he would have had a killer book (probably a novelette). Unfortunately, Wright doesn’t leave it at that. The book drags on and on, moving backward into the story and turning it into a convoluted, incoherent mess.