“Tom Barren wakes up into his own dream” (3).
Tom Barren lives in twenty-first century Toronto: you know, flying cars, robot servants, and unlimited power.
Unfortunately, he becomes history’s first time-traveler and bumbles the job thoroughly. He awakes in a dystopia: the twenty-first century that we know. However, the other world wasn’t quite as perfect as it seemed, the new world isn’t entirely as horrible as he initially thinks…..
At this point, Mastai’s light, satiric romp takes several turns, a few of them fairly nasty, before arriving at a conclusion that might be characterized as….
That would be a spoiler, I’m afraid.
Title: All Our Wrong Todays
Author: Elan Mastai
First published on February 7, 2017
Slacker Tom Barren dicks around with his father’s time machine and undoes the World’s Fair / Amazing Stories / Disney’s Tomorrowland twenty-first century, replacing it with the rather glum present we all know, with its looming environmental crises, social problems, and…. a significantly improved personal life for Tom’s alternative self, John. Even if Tom can undo this world, does he want to? Can he convince anyone he hasn’t just gone crazy? And might his meddling result in a more sinister reality?
Elan Mastai accomplishes much in his stunning debut novel. He critiques past time-travel narratives, tries, Primer-like, to take the implications of time travel seriously while, Vonnegut-like, to find the humor in dark subjects. He uses his SF conceits to examine very resonant human situations and psychological states. Tom eventually has three different versions of himself battling for control of his psyche. Many readers will relate.
The author also measures his own dreams carefully. Despite his understandable love for that shining googie future we all dreamed of in the post-war era, he understands the flaws rooted in its very inspiration.
To some degree, characters will be plot devices. Nevertheless, the tendency becomes a problem in this novel.
Firstly, we have the novel’s great inventor, Lionel Goettreider. If Mastai avoids some of the logical problems that bedevil past time-travel novels, the central figure at his book’s jonbar point is a pop-SF cliché. Goettreider is one of those brilliant maverick scientists whose work comes out of nowhere; when he abandons it, in certain time-lines, no one attempts or accomplishes anything even remotely similar. Matai works hard to explain this character’s motives (and his complete invisibility in our 2016) but, ultimately, he exists and acts to serve the demands of the plot, and Tom’s discussions with them sound wooden when compared with the novel’s other conversations.
Secondly, we have the female characters. They aren’t entirely puppets, but the manner in which they serve the story will make many readers uncomfortable, and probably should. I don’t suggest that writers shouldn’t address sexual assault and/or pregnancy as motivating forces for female characters, women sacrificing their lives for their men, and women inspiring men, but these tropes are overused in general and addressed, in this novel, with less sensitivity and complexity than we might hope. Penny is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but she lives on the same street.
Originality: 3/6 Time travel and alternate realties aren’t remotely new, but Mastai manages some original twists.
Imagery: 4/6 Mastai manages a few memorable images, such as those found in Tom’s excusion to an abandoned town. For a novel so immersed in exotic alternatives, however, it proves remarkably short on description. His original present relies heavily on the reader’s familiarity with past visions of the future– and the contemporary Toronto skyline.
Story: 5/6 This may be one of the most readable SF works of 2017, and it deserves Hugo and Nebula attention.
Characterization: 4/6 Alas, save for Tom/John/Victor himself, the characterization isn’t particularly strong, and the female characterization may raise a few eyebrows. Of course, it is presented as a memoir, told in first person, and our narrator’s many flaws might be expected to influence how we see characters.
Emotional Response: 5/6
Editing: 5/6 The short chapters make for a deceptively easy read.
Overall score: 5/6 What begins as a satiric romp takes several turns. Some of these are dark, while a few of them aspire, at least, to be deep. Even when it falters, Mastai’s highly readable novel proves worthwhile.
In total, All Our Wrong Todays receives 31/42