in Book Reviews, commentary

I haven’t read a lot of time travel science fiction in my life. So I can’t judge this book in the context of other sci-fi stories. But if this is what time travel books are supposed to be like, well done Elan Mastai! You’ve blown me away and won me as a reader for all your future work!

This book starts out as a time travel science fiction novel, but so very quickly, this gorgeously funny story with a narrator who’s just as confused as we readers are, becomes a strange look at everything else time travel is about – people, their emotions, their lives and arcs and how time travel affects them. The author wraps all of the stories he writes in a wry humor that had me laughing like a maniac on the bus, with amazed people looking at this loony who still reads hardbound books and laughs at them!

There are many layers of philosophy, anti-war, pro-peace rhetoric all set within the dialogue of the story for you to discover, with absolutely zero (well, two pages total) theoretical discussion. Every thought you’ve had about time travel, every plot point you can imagine while reading the story, every joke the author could fit in well, everything is in there.

This is a great read. It took me about three weeks of on-and-off reading and the story moves at a great pace, though it does get a little convoluted in the final chapters. But there too, is a gem – the author takes the universal concepts of time travel – it happens instantly, it can be reversed if done carefully, a second version of you can observe a third version of you in the background to fulfill some convoluted narrative – and twists and turns them to suit his excellent ideas.

Best of all is that this is a story about people. The narrator is so scientifically dense that he doesn’t bother to explain much about the technology he encounters. It’s a blast to see him blunder through life not knowing how doors works! But when it comes to people, oh, this is a deep story. It shows how amazingly, brilliantly, wholly selfish people are. If you’ve ever worshiped a ‘hero’, seeing them as a singular dimension of “all that is good”, this is the read to dispel your doubts!

I cannot describe how beautiful this book is. To do that would be, to take a phrase from the book, sort of like cracking a creme brulee. Just go read it. Borrow it from me if you want!

Notes on All Our Wrong Todays

Page 60, God this is a funny book! Every few pages, I’m grabbing my sides rocking with laughter! The people on the bus look at me like I’m crazy for laughing at a paper book.

Page 62, all this guy talks about is women!!! It’s like his entire life story is about one woman to the next! Damn!

Page 62, I’ve noticed something about modern futuristic sci-fi novels – they all tend to assume that somehow Chinese folks will be marrying Mexican folk a lot and the offspring will inevitably have a Chinese first and Spanish second name, or vice versa. I suppose that flows from the two largest non-white minorities that white writers focus on.

Page 66, this and the first line of the second chapter are the only two places where the narrator’s name is used till now. In chapter 2, because there, the author tries to be cheeky and uses the third person from the narrator’s perspective and immediately hates it and reverts back to first person, which is funny! This is what is so interesting to me about first person novels. The narrator has to be extremely descriptive about things and emotions and feelings, without which the novel starts to feel dull. In third person, there’s the escape from emotions and mainly a flow based on actions is easier to create.

Page 67, the narrator talks about a global time synced system, an NTP server at scale, but talks about it being synced to the microsecond. Is this an oversight? What about the nanosecond?

Page 73, here is the typical line from a man in the wrong, “I don’t think that justifies my subsequent actions. But it explains them.”

Page 76, the book talks about pregnancy and avoiding it and once again, even though all this marvelous technological advancement surrounds the narrator, the onus of making sure pregnancy is avoided lies with the woman, with what the author calls a ‘gametic suppressant’. Brilliant oversight. Of course, it’s a plot point. It’s just part of the story and crafted in a way to put the blame squarely on the unwitting narrator, but still.

Page 82, “the liar, the genius, the ghost.” What a line! Whey a way to describe, to summarize almost all genius!

Page 151, the narrator’s description of books and reading here is repeated from before. The way the narrator describes that his mother is the only one who reads paper books is also repeated.

Page 175, oh boy. The exact words the narrator has been hoping to hear his entire life.

Page 182, this chapter feels like an ode to a bookstore owner

Page 186, what a pretty line – “This is the morning after the night before.”

Page 186, there is a certain awkwardness in Penny’s language and lines. Almost as if the author wrote the character as such and fought with the editors about it. Let’s see, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this aspect of the character is important in some way.

Page 200, excellent ending to the chapter! Wonderful last line!

Page 203, spelling mistake. Should be imminently instead of immanently. I think. What does immanent mean? The internet seems to think ‘inherent’ or ‘remaining within’. I suppose that’s right. So, not a spelling mistake. A new word for me!

Page 208, just one perfect line and I burst out laughing in a crowded bus stand on a rainy day.

Page 214, heh. “small-d depressed”

Page 215, dawn often tends to smear across the sky, doesn’t it?

Page 223, “events in…a family…Extinction-level events”
What a wonderful way of looking at ‘issues’. Indeed, some families and relationships have major events that cause deep scars. One other book I’ve read this year also had similar ‘events’ – Before the Wind by Jim Lynch.

Page 224, “I don’t believe in the truth. I’m a scientist. I believe in questions and the best answer we have right now.”
That’s great writing. Such diametrically opposite statements!

Page 249, “even the unlovable parts you hadn’t shown him yet”
This is a very strong page. Read it all, but also this part alone. It’s so poignant because everyone has this feeling that they have dark parts that no one can love and even the ones who love them may never accept them. Ever. That is true human frailty.

Page 295, “Your brain is very good at managing cognitive dissonance. Arguably, it’s your brain’s main purpose.” 😂

Page 319, this is not a sci-fi story about time travel. This is a love and loss story which happens to be wrapped in some convoluted sci-fi chapters. That’s beautiful!

Page 324, “This is how you discover who someone is. Not success. Not the result. The struggle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about people and blogging and the social aspect of the open web. This line here shows why it’s so interesting to follow people’s blogs more than anything else – their social media profiles, their newsletters, their podcasts. Blogs are where people try and fail. Blogs are where people record their silliest mistakes and worst ideas. That journey is much more worth it than the result – a working product, or a service, or a life well lived.

Page 325, “That’s all success feels like. It’s not triumphant. It’s not glorious. It’s just a relief. You finally stopped failing.”
Beautiful words!

Page 357, “Its tough to get worked up about what might have been when all you know is what already is.”

Page 367, “It was like our collective imagination stopped revising the idea of what civilization could be, fixed a definitive model in place, and set to work making it happen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – why do we have corruption, why do people know morals but don’t follow morals. After all, stagnation in politics and ethics is another kind of immorality. I think the author sums it up very nicely – when there is a fixed idea of what the world is supposed to be like, there can only be a sort of catching up to it. People don’t work to improve what they have or what they’re aiming for. They just want to get there and then hold on, without wondering whether the goal post has or should be moved.
This paragraph and this chapter is about the ideology the book is based on, or at least, a part of it. And it works well – it points out an inherent flaw in our thinking – when we accuse ideologues of misdirection and corruption, we don’t understand that even those who believe they are on a progressive path are in fact ideologues who are leading the world to a fixed point. Perhaps we need to check all our thought leaders and make sure they are constantly revising the end goal they are striving towards instead of limiting their vision to something lesser.

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