Like many geeks, I do love a bit of mind-bending time-travel. If you can throw in some multiple pathways, so much the better. I’ve reviewed a few over the years on GeekDad, including this one about “sliding door” style plots. Recently, I read a review from one of my favorite online reviewers, Kate at “For Winter Nights.” Her SF reviews rarely let me down. She’s also much more timely than I am. Kate reviewed, glowingly, a novel called The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas. So strong was Kate’s review, I knew I had to read it. She was right, it’s a superb novel. Here are 5 Reasons why you should read it too.
1. Groundbreaking Science Team.
The novel opens in 1967. Groundbreaking science is being carried out by an all-women team of scientists. From the off, the team is engaging and feels real. It’s easy to forget that time travel wasn’t actually invented in 1967. The camaraderie and rivalry between the group are pivotal to the success of the novel. The characters’ flaws become central to the events of the novel. Whilst a science fiction concept is at the heart of the story, it’s the strength of Mascarenhas characters that makes The Psychology of Time Travel work so well.
2. Intricate Plotting.
It’s not just strength of its characters that make The Psychology of Time Travel so good. It’s also the twisty-turny (and, dare I type it) timey-wimey aspects of the plot. This is whodunnit plotting of the highest order. Contriving plot, motive, and opportunity, when time travel and multiple selves are in play, must be head-scratching indeed. I can only imagine the number of post-its Mascarenhas got through when working out her plot. As far as I can tell, its flawless.
It’s delivered with great skill. Clues and hints as to what happened are dropped at exactly the right moment. The novel is gripping pretty much from the off, with hook after hook thrown in to pull you to the novel’s conclusion.
3. Portrayal of Mental Health.
There’s a reason why this book is called The Psychology of Time Travel. After the first successful time travel, just barely into the future, Barbara, one of the original four pioneers suffers a mental breakdown. A very public breakdown that almost derails the entire project. From this everything else follows.
Margaret, the de facto leader of the group, has a very forceful personality. She exiles Barbara and ensures that the other two members of the group leave her in the cold. She then sets about ensuring that nothing similar ever happens again. Enlisting the help of a psychologist, Margaret sets up a rigorous vetting procedure that ensures that nobody [she considers] mentally weak can time travel.
Another issue comes to light, later in the novel, surrounding death. What are the consequences of moving forward in time and seeing your loved ones die? To be able, effectively, to outlive everyone you know? The powers-that-be develop a series of tests that are designed to weed out people who might be affected by being confronted by their own mortality.
What these procedures end up doing is see empathy as a weakness. People who display empathic qualities are removed from the program. Whilst short-term problems are solved, as you can imagine, the long term of effects of creating a society of time-travelers without empathy does not go well, ultimately leading to…
4. A Thoroughly Disturbing Dystopia.
Britain’s Time Travel Conclave is built in a strong woman’s image. Like many things built around a single personality, this does not go well. Margaret creates a world populated by single-minded sociopaths, selected by criteria developed by one woman with a very narrow view of human perfection. Out of the success of the experiment and the brilliance of the inventors of time travel comes something truly terrifying.
5.Credible Time Travel.
I love the time travel in this book. Often temporal dislocation plotlines don’t stand up to scrutiny. Paradoxes are conveniently forgotten. It helps that in Mascarenhas’ world, time travel isn’t possible back into the past, beyond the first time machine being built. This compartmentalizes the time travel and ensures that largely, the plot and time strands are moving only forward. There is little chance to go back in time and kill your grandfather.
Through the use of language by the denizens of The Conclave and attitudes its closed society creates, Mascarenhas builds up a strong sense that the place actually exists. Time travel feels real because the effects are felt not just on a temporal, plot level, but on a human level. The psychology of time travel is what makes it feel so real.
The generation of multiple time traveler instances does get a little mind-bending but, as a whole, the time travel elements of the book are slick and seamless. The novel’s narrative is built on this solid foundation which makes the mystery and psychological elements of the story so much stronger.
The Psychology of Time Travel is an intriguing whodunnit, that poses a locked room mystery with a time travel twist. It examines empathy, mental health, and the perils of a cult of personality. Part dystopian vision, part mystery novel with a memorable cast of characters, Kate Mascarenhas has delivered a complete work of brilliance. This one is definitely in line to by my novel of the year.
If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other 5 Reasons to Read posts.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for review. All opinions expressed here are my own.