All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Tom Barren lives in a near-utopian version of our world in 2016, the world that Disney and science fiction optimistically imagined in the 1950s that we would one day have, complete with flying cars, ray guns, space vacations, and other Amazing Stories and Jetson-like technology. There’s a single compelling reason for this: in 1965, a man named Lionel Goettreider invented an engine that produced unlimited clean energy, in the process giving himself a fatal dose of radiation, but also becoming a historic figure on the level of Albert Einstein or Sir Isaac Newton.
Tom is a disappointment to his father, unsuccessful in life, his career, and love. But his father, a genius who has invented a method of time travel, gives Tom a job in his lab after his wife and Tom’s mother dies, not expecting him to amount to anything. Tom is assigned to be the understudy for Penelope Weschler, the career-driven team leader for the very first time travel mission, to watch the initial 1965 experiment with the Goettreider Engine, as invisible witnesses. Penelope and Tom have a one-night stand the night before the mission, and Penelope becomes pregnant, instantly changing her genetic composition and disqualifying her for the mission.
In the fallout, Tom rebelliously activates the time machine with himself as the only passenger, sending himself back to 1965 and inadvertently changing the result of Goettreider’s initial experiment. The emergency return function in the time-travel apparatus activates and sends Tom back to 2016 ― but he awakes in our world, with a kinder and gentler father, a mother who is still alive, a sister he never had before, a more personable and relaxed version of Penelope … and a polluted, conflict-ridden world that appalls him. Tom intends to fix his mistake and bring back the world he is familiar with, but as he develops new relationships in our world, he’s torn between these two versions of his world.
All Our Wrong Todays (2017) begins rather slowly, with an extended setup that could have been tightened up, and the sad, incompetent version of Loser Tom further drags down the story with his whining and self-pity. But once the actual time travel occurs about 25% of the way in, the pace picks up, the element of suspense kicks in, Tom somewhat inexplicably develops a more attractive and engaging personality (though a reason for that is suggested much later in the story), and this novel turned into a quick, gripping read that was almost impossible to put down.
All Our Wrong Todays is a time travel/alternate timelines science fiction novel that actually pays some serious attention to the paradoxes and theoretical difficulties with time travel. For example, Elan Mastai directly addresses the problem that the earth’s movement in space creates for would-be time travelers.
Marty McFly didn’t appear thirty years earlier in his hometown of Hill Valley, California. His tricked-out DeLorean materialized in the endless empty blackness of the cosmos with the Earth approximately 350,000,000,000 miles away. … The Terminator would probably survive in space because it’s an unstoppable robot killing machine, but traveling from 2029 to 1984 would’ve given Sarah Connor a 525,000,000,000-mile head start.
The Gottreider Engine provides an unanticipated anchor, a bread crumb trail of tau radiation that can be followed through space and time. It’s an ingenious solution.
Mastai combines his periodic forays into the theoretical aspects of time travel and alternate timelines, with a suspenseful plot and some surprisingly insightful writing that helps to ground Tom’s breezy, conversational narrative voice. At different times All Our Wrong Todays reminded me strongly of both Stephen King‘s 11/22/63 and Blake Crouch‘s Dark Matter. Despite its slow start, overall it’s a solid science fiction novel and an enjoyable, absorbing read.
It’s not flawless, but it is quite interesting (at least after you get through the first quarter of it).
I appreciate any time travel story that acknowledges the earth’s movement. Attention to detail! It also has a great title.
Right? I always have no many nit-picky complaints about time travel, but it sounds like this book actually addresses genuine problems. Great review, Tadiana!