I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Published by Penguin on February 7th 2017
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Time Travel, Literary, Family Life
Format: Electronic ARC
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3.5 Stars. I read this at a very appropriate time because I’ve recently been getting the strange sensation that I’m living in the wrong timeline! 😉 I’m going to avoid specific details about the story’s path, but here’s a review summary for those who don’t want to know as little as possible: The tone is lighthearted and self-aware, making it an entertaining read. The main character and his love life didn’t excite me, but I loved the technology, the exploration of different realities, and the questions it raised. The first half was slow because Tom was at max-whininess, but the pace picked up in the second half.
This is how the world changes—two strangers experience a crackle of chemistry.
Tom Barren (32) is from the world we were supposed to have, a technologically-advanced utopia with flying cars and space vacations. Unfortunately, Tom screwed that up for all of us when he traveled back in time to witness the moment that made his world possible. He wakes up in the wrong today—our present. His life is surprisingly more fulfilling, but he feels guilty about erasing the lives of millions of people. Should his loyalties be to the people in his original world or the four people who make his new life so much better? Is salvaging his old world even possible? Everyone is skeptical of Tom’s story. Could Tom’s memories of a Tomorrowland-like reality be delusions? How can he prove that his memories are real without advanced technology of his original world?
“The most complex physics question [is] a breeze compared to the contradictions of the human heart.”
All Our Wrong Todays reminded me so much of Kurt Vonnegut, even before the first Vonnegut reference. The conversational writing style, the absurdity, the way backstories are told, and the use of science fiction to say something larger about humanity. There’s even a scene that happens backward, which reminded me of Slaughterhouse-Five. It turns out that Vonnegut is considered an important philosopher in Tom’s high-tech world. The author pokes some good-natured fun at the science fiction genre and sometimes his own book. He addresses the big problem with most time travel stories, which I had never thought about!
This is how you discover who someone is. Not the success. Not the result. The struggle. The part between the beginning and the ending that is the truth of life.
My favorite part was the mythos surrounding Lionel Goettreider and the Goettreider Engine. The Goettreider Engine is a machine that harnesses the earth’s rotation to generate energy. This invention resulted in everyone’s basic needs being met, so all people need to worry about is being comfortable and entertained. Of course, all the technology in the world can’t sort out the messiness of human emotions! In terms of the ‘main event’, I loved the contrast of the romanticized version Tom learned in school versus what actually happened.
“It’s amazing how much damage one penis can do.”
While the technical aspects of the story immediately appealed to me, I had a harder time with the central character. First-person, single point of view made this a difficult issue to overcome. Tom is my least favorite type of character—a narcissistic, self-described loser who all these women keep sleeping with. He’s completely aware of how repetitive and whiny he is, but that doesn’t stop him! Sometimes it was hard to get too annoyed with him, because he’d read my mind every time I’d start to have a negative thought. A favorite line halfway through: “Maybe right now you’re thinking— okay, why isn’t this story over? Everything kind of worked out for this jackass.” His self-awareness was a little endearing; he apologizes for his narcissism taking over the narrative and not delivering the time-travel book you were expecting. I also wasn’t emotionally invested in the soulmate situation. The lusty infatuation solidified into love so quickly that I never felt an urgency for them to be together in any timeline. I was captivated by another love affair that plays a central role in the story, simply because of quiet moment in a lab.
When you invent a new technology, you also invent the accident of that technology.
. . . .
The Accident doesn’t just apply to technology, it also applies to people. Every person you meet introduces the accident of that person to you. What can go right and what can go wrong. There is no intimacy without consequence.
Like much science fiction, the best part were the issues it made me think about. Tom draws several parallels between the fantastic aspects of his story and the ordinary lives we lead. Existing in multiple realities is not just something that happens in a science fiction. As Tom matures, he sees how everyone is complicated and contradictory. We all consist of different versions of ourselves, even some versions we’d rather do without. He sees that time travel isn’t necessary to destroy a world. Our choices can create new realities and significant emotional experiences can make a hidden version of a person dominant. Tom has to learn for himself that beliefs not backed by action are useless and to never stop being open to different possibilities. There’s actually a lot of messages and I think I’d have more trouble narrowing it down if Tom didn’t explicitly state what he wanted us to take away from his story. The central message is that there’s no such thing as the life you are supposed to lead and trying to control your world can have disastrous consequences.
That’s the magic trick of creating life—it takes every bad decision you ever made and makes them necessary footsteps on the treacherous path that brought you home.
While searching for more about a potential film, I found this quote from Elan Mastai’s pitch letter to publishers: “Imagine if Kurt Vonnegut had decided to tell a story like The Time Traveler’s Wife with the narrative voice of Jonathan Tropper.” I can’t really sum it up better than that! Tom could be exhausting at times and I didn’t feel a strong emotional pull towards him or his love life, but All Our Wrong Todays is entertaining and even made me laugh! I recommend it to anyone looking for an amusing book that allows you to explore new worlds and makes you think. I think Vonnegut fans who read contemporary literary fiction will enjoy it.
I want to say this devoid of any context: I loved Greta!