This is the second in what may turn out to be a continuing series of review posts following up on preview posts, and just because the first one (and this one) have to do with time travel books, don’t worry, I won’t be limiting myself to time travel books in the future.
Back in February of this year, I wrote a preview of All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai (see WHICH 2016 DO YOU WANT: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS ), a book in which our protagonist comes from one version of 2016 and ends up in another version, which turns out to be our 2016, which to him seems like a dystopia. When I wrote the preview, I thought the premise was intriguing and different, but, as always, what the previews tell you about a book is not enough to give you a real feel for the book itself.
In this case, intriguing as the premise was, the book was much better. The preview, and the jacket copy, fail to give you a sense of how rich and funny the book is, how enjoyable the voice of the main character is, and how the author manages to jump from humor to sorrow in a virtual blink of an eye, not to mention how the characters change but remain recognizable from one version of the future to the other.
What I really liked about the book was the narrator/protagonist, Tom Barren. In the reality in which he was born, he was the son of a genius scientist father and a miserable, self-sabotaging mother. His father’s major project, to which he’d dedicated his whole life and all his brilliance, was time travel. Considering that in this world there’s no energy shortage, no pollution, no imbalance of wealth, no war, where everybody more or less works in laboratories of one kind or another, what else is left to conquer but time itself? Tom’s father may be incredibly brilliant, but he’s a complete jerk of a father, the sort who pays attention to no one but himself and his work, not even noticing all his wife does for him until she’s killed in a freak accident. Possibly because of his odd family situation, Tom always feels out of place, a loser, a stranger to the wonders of his world, which colors the way he tells his story (with a wry sense of humor that led me to laugh out loud more than once, especially in the early stages of the book). His mother’s death unmoors him totally, and his father, in an effort to get Tom out of his hair (more or less), gives him a job as an alternate chrononaut in the time travel project. This brings Tom into contact with Penelope, the almost perfect young woman who would have been an astronaut except for a tragic flaw and who is now going to be the first time traveler in history.
Except that, thanks to Tom, that doesn’t happen, and he ends up going back in time himself, which is actually the cause of the splitting of the timelines. I’m not going to describe how this happens (the twists and turns are part of the fun), but it feels perfectly reasonable when you’re reading it.
He wakes up in our 2016, where everything is different, not just the world itself (and it’s fun to see our world which we take for granted through Tom’s eyes), but Tom’s immediate world, his professor father and professor mother, and his sarcastic sister who didn’t even exist in his original reality. It turns out that Penelope also exists in this reality, though she, too, is very different from the driven woman he knew in his 2016. Here, he’s a famous, successful architect (building things that would have existed in his original reality), kind of a jerk with women, but otherwise doing well and well-adjusted to the reality he lives in.
For various reasons (and again, I wouldn’t dream of spoiling your fun by explaining them, because they are not what you would expect in a time travel novel), Tom sets out to find the genius who set his world on its path, and who he stopped from doing the same in this world, and when he finds the man, that’s when the really fun paradoxes and mind twisters come in.
It’s entertaining, it’s mind-boggling in a good way, and the characters are terrific. It’s a fast read (you have to keep reading to find out what’s going to happen next, because you can’t imagine where it’s going) and a wonderful one. You don’t have to be a science fiction fan to enjoy this book: give it a try and see for yourself.