Stack Overflow: Wibbly-Wobbly, Timey-Wimey

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As promised in my Reading Resolutions, I’ve been collecting more time travel stories. Here are a few titles coming next month (plus one older book) about going backward, forward, and sideways in time.

All Our Wrong Todays

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Elan Mastai’s author bio states that All Our Wrong Todays is his first novel, which makes me wonder if he’s a bit of a time-traveler himself, jumping back in time with a finished novel after years of practice. Okay, sure, it’s not perfect and there are some rough patches here and there, but for the most part it grabbed me from the first page and didn’t let go until I finished.

Here’s the story: Tom Barren is from a world of flying cars and teleportation and robot maids—you know like the Jetsons. But he’s not from the future, exactly. He’s from the present that we should have had, the one where Lionel Gottreider successfully created unlimited clean energy in 1965 and sparked a surge in technological advancement. Oh, you’ve never heard of Gottreider and the Sixteen Witnesses? Well, that’s Tom’s fault.

Tom—who wasn’t supposed to be traveling through time in the first place—manages to screw up his past, and winds up back in the present. Our present. The one where we still have to dress ourselves and cook food and open doors with our hands. There are some things in Tom’s life that are better, though, but he’s still stuck on the notion that it’s his fault all those billions of people who used to exist in his world are no longer around in this one. Of course, Tom’s family (in this world) think he’s just had some sort of psychotic break.

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but All Our Wrong Todays delves into so much more than time travel. It’s about family and love and poor decisions, about broken trust and abusive relationships, about success—and its counterpart, failure. But it is also about time travel, and why other time travel stories get it wrong (though I’m sure some will argue the finer points of whether Tom’s story gets it right).

The pace is a little uneven at times—sometimes it’s all high-tech sci-fi, and sometimes it’s all introspection—but on the whole, it’s a really fantastic adventure that manages to address some pretty serious topics. I wish I could jump back in time so I could read it again for the first time.

The Time Museum

The Time Museum by Matthew Loux

Delia Bean is a big geek who loves museums and libraries, so she’s delighted to discover that her Uncle Lyndon is the curator of the Earth Time Museum, a museum that exists outside of time and collects artifacts and specimens from all of Earth’s history—past, present, and future. It just so happens that Delia is now old enough to apply for an internship position at the museum, but she’ll be competing against several other teens, like Titus from ancient Rome, Dex the Neanderthal, and Michiko from the 23rd century. Delia and the other applicants are sent on various training missions, from the Cretaceous Period to London in 3029, and they run into their fair share of mishaps and mysteries, including the Grey Earl, a renegade time traveler who has his own agenda.

Okay, so the time travel in this one isn’t detailed and technical—it’s played for fun, though there are hints that it’s a closed-loop sort of time travel. There aren’t explanations for, say, why all the kids can understand English, or why the dinosaurs have punk-rock hairstyles. But it’s a comic book meant for kids, so I guess that’s all right. I’m not a huge fan of the artwork, though, particularly the way that all of the kids have essentially the same face, which can be distracting. You’ll get a page with really detailed drawings of sculptures or architecture, and then there will be a goofy-looking dinosaur—the juxtaposition of styles is a little jarring.

Still, the story is pretty fun, introducing the characters and setting up the premise. It definitely looks like there are more books planned, because we only get a few hints about the Grey Earl so far, and I’m curious what comes next.

A Year Without Autumn

A Year Without Autumn by Liz Kessler

This is an older one I found in my stacks of middle grade books—it’s one I hadn’t read before but I bumped it up on my list because it’s a time travel story. Jenni and Autumn are best friends, even though they’re quite different. Jenni is cautious and likes life to be organized and neat; Autumn is wild and carefree and adventurous—but Jenni always has a good time when she trusts Autumn and takes risks. But then Jenni suddenly finds herself a year into the future—everything has changed, and she doesn’t know happened. Autumn has become sullen and gloomy, and Jenni’s own family isn’t the neat and tidy bunch it used to be.

Jenni is twelve (and then thirteen), so the book is targeted at tweens, and while it isn’t exactly a coming-of-age story, the book does explore the topic of friendship, particularly in the face of tragedy. It also asks the question (as you see on the cover): would you want to get a look at your own future?

The time travel in this story starts off accidental, and it takes Jenni a while to figure out how it happened, though it seemed obvious to me. And while she spends a good chunk of the beginning totally confused about what’s going on, I think the reader (especially if you’re already primed for a time travel story) doesn’t experience the same confusion, so I got a little impatient waiting for her to figure it out. Once we got past that point, though, it does present an interesting form of time travel—Jenni’s consciousness jumps forward or backward in time, but her body is the appropriate age for the time she’s in, so people don’t react to her being the wrong age. And above it all hang some other questions: where’s the Jenni who actually lived through the past year? Is it better to go forward and peek ahead, or go back and try to fix things?

Time Share

Time Share written by Patrick Keller, illustrated by Dan McDaid

Time Share is a teens-and-up graphic novel from Oni Press, and it’s a really bizarre tale that includes a malfunctioning cyborg assassin, a 19th-century inventor, a time-traveling soldier from the future, and Ollie Finch—the hapless fool at the center of it all. (Personally I picture him played by Simon Pegg.) The story does have some familiar tropes: a cyborg sent from the future to eliminate its target in the past, and a soldier sent back to stop him; a self-proclaimed Time Master with a time-traveling port-a-potty named the SPANDA; a self-aware supercomputer that starts a war with humanity.

But it’s also really silly, with a convoluted plot that has this motley crew jumping into a post-apocalyptic future, back to the 1889 World’s Fair, and to Ollie’s own childhood in 1979. It’s a wild romp through time and space, hilarious and chock-full of pop-culture references (I’m sure I didn’t catch them all).

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