All Our Wrong Todays is an imaginative time travel story starring Tom Barren as a guilt-ridden doofus in a Jetsons world who never seems to quite get it right. Tom’s world diverged from ours in 1965 when scientist Lionel Gottreider demonstrated a power source that used the Earth’s motion – clean, non-polluting, infinite. The power source gave off radiation; in Tom’s original world Gottreider leaves it run and he and the 12 scientists observing the experiment die a few months later, but only after Gottreider gives the technology to the world.
Tom is miserable for lots of reasons and impulsively jumps into the time travel machine his father invented. Unfortunately, true to his track record, he forgets to use the suit designed to keep time travelers invisible and unable to interact with the past and unable to change history. When Tom goes back to the crucial moment he startles Gottreider and interrupts the experiment. Gottreider survives and Tom returns to the present.
Our present. No flying cars, no fantastic gadgets, good-bye peace and hello to the world we know, as mucked up as ever. Tom is now John Barren, a visionary architect with loving parents and a sister. Tom has much happier life as John but is torn by grief and guilt for destroying his original world and causing millions of people to never be born. Of course it could be worse. Gottreider’s experiment has a third possible outcome, a massive meltdown that destroys North America and causes Tom to be Victor, a vicious special ops agent.
What makes All Our Wrong Todays work is the character, Tom/John/Victor. He stays himself, Tom mostly, as he tries to integrate Tom and John, learns to enjoy his family, falls in love. We walk along with Tom as he develops a personality, possibly the first time he’s ever been himself and not just his father’s son or the famous architect. He meets Penny and learns to love, meets his sister and learns what it is like to have a family that cares about him. He gives a talk about his architectural vision and learns what it is like to be successful.
All through Tom never stops thinking of himself as at least part doofus, trying to figure out what to do to correct the world – and trying to decide whether that’s the right thing to do if it is even possible. We can imagine ourselves in the same situation because Tom isn’t a miracle worker or a hero, he is just a guy and kind of a failure.
Tom learns to enjoy his new world, despite the guilt, decides flying cars are no match for a happy, fulfilling life. Still he knows the world as a whole is less well-off, less peaceful and he wrestles with the question whether to risk everything to put the world back even if he loses himself.
A Lot of Fun
Some time travel stories are awful, with bad plots or cardboard characters or too much technical jabber. Most lack a sense of fun. All Our Wrong Todays feels right. We can imagine being Tom, making the wrong choice, ending the world as he knows it, trying to discover what is true vs. imaginary, trying to correct the problem.
All Our Wrong Todays reminded me of The Door Into Summer, one of my favorite novels from Robert Heinlein. It has a similar sense of an individual who is caught up in time gone wrong and who then must correct the outcome. The Door Into Summer was about one person with little sense that his mix up affects the world, while All Our Wrong Todays has a more consequential change and Tom has a personal and global impact.
All Our Wrong Todays is the first novel by Elan Mastai who is screenwriter. I don’t see room here for a sequel, unless Mastai uses the same setting and it will be interesting to see where he goes next with writing. Dutton will publish All Our Wrong Todays in February 2017 and Paramount has already picked it up for film.
I received All Our Wrong Today’s from Net Galley in expectation of a review.