Tom Barren doesn’t live in the future; he lives in 2016, just like us. But he comes from a place that is just like we’ve always pictured “the future” for decades: flying cars, space tourism, food and clothes made on demand, a more peaceful world. Thing is, he’s a bit of a loser. His father is a genius and Tom, who’s in his early 30s, still has yet to find his own path. A string of events leads his father to hire him, despite his lack of qualifications, to be an “understudy” for one of the “chrononauts” who are preparing to travel back in time using his dad’s great invention: a time machine. The time machine can travel first just to one point and place in time: 1965 San Francisco, where the now-legendary Lionel Goettreider invented and started his Engine, which harnesses the rotation of the earth and somehow produces clean, unlimited power. Everything changed from that date.
After things go horribly wrong with the chrononaut Tom was the backup for, and whom he fell in love with, he ends up making a crazy spur-of-the-moment decision, then creating a huge change in the timeline, and he ends up essentially destroying his own timeline and landing in “our” 2016.
He feels horribly guilty about his actions and the repercussions, but he finds that he likes this life better. His “body,” you could say, has been John, a successful architect who for years has dreamed of the world Tom is from and designed buildings that come from there. He has a sister, which he doesn’t have in his original timeline, and his parents are both more interesting, better balanced, and happier. He looks for this timeline’s version of the Penelope he fell in love with, and he finds a similar Penny who is a great fit for him. Life is great. Except it isn’t. And it’s not “his.”
The book is written in the first person, and Tom just talks on and on about his personality, his failures, his desires, his lost world, his guilt, and so on. He’s pretty annoying. But despite the fact I kind of disliked him and got tired of all his philosophizing, I kinda rooted for him to just choose to be happy.
Of course, things don’t turn out quite that simple, and he ends up facing a big challenge and finally “settling” matters.
For most of this book, it seemed like a lot of narrator navel-gazing. I was almost wondering if this was a self-published book. It seemed like the writer didn’t have an editor to rein him in and not just write whatever he pleased as his brain went off on all kinds of tangents and thoughts. The book is more philosophical than sci-fi, though it starts feeling more like it really gets into the nitty-gritty of what could happen with time travel by the end (and then there’s a segment that’s pretty out-there and circuitous and almost a bit much, but it ends up making some sense for the plot). The tone is kind of strange, too. I wasn’t sure what to think for so much of it, and I somehow lack the proper words and literary comparisons to get it all across. But I appreciated what the author pulled off at the end.
Rated: High. There are a good couple dozen uses of strong language, plus a paragraph that’s just the f-word over and over when the narrator makes a catastrophic error. There’s sex but not much in the way of details. There are some crude observations. There are a few scenes of people being killed or maimed kind of grotesquely.
*I received an advance e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.