All Our Wrong Todays: Struggling to get back to my future

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All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai SFF book reviewsAll 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.

February 7, 2017. You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks, and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed…because it wasn’t necessary. Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland. But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career, and—maybe, just maybe—his soul mate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents, and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future—our future—is supposed to be. All Our Wrong Todays is about the versions of ourselves that we shed and grow into over time. It is a story of friendship and family, of unexpected journeys and alternate paths, and of love in its multitude of forms. Filled with humor and heart, and saturated with insight and intelligence and a mind-bending talent for invention, this novel signals the arrival of a major talent.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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4 comments

  1. sounds interesting!

  2. 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!

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