This is a story of living in boxes, or self-contained units. The story loops around and around between memory in the narrator’s head and memory he re-lives by visiting with his time machine.
Charles repairs time machines for a living. This doesn’t really satisfy him, but it’s work. He and his dad invented a time machine but that model failed. His dad has gone missing and Charles doesn’t quite know how to look for him, until he encounters himself and starts a time loop.
In this loop, Charles revisits memories of his dad and the building of the time machine. By watching these memories like an observer peeking through a window, Charles comes to understand his dad as a person, not just a parental figure. He watches his dad’s device fail when it’s demonstrated to a bigwig. What Charles knows, but his dad didn’t in that moment, was that another device was created and worked. Now people can travel back and forth in time as a form of recreation.
Charles’ dad spent all his free time in his garage building a machine that would allow him to spend more time doing what he wanted. His dad was insulted at the idea that each moment only comes once and can only be experienced once, so he designs a device that allows the person to revisit events, like how memory works. Ironically, his son spends a decade of his time in between times. He’s jammed the shifter in Present-Infinite where he just hovers and doesn’t move forward or backward.
This could be an allegory to how people hover in time by scrolling through websites, visiting social media, watching television or movies, or playing mindless games on their phones. When doing this, people aren’t engaging with their lives, they’re allowing their lives to slip past them, they’re hovering in between tasks, in between events, in between duties, just like Charles in his personal time travel box.
Charles’ mom is also stuck in a time loop, this one bought and paid for by Charles. In it, she makes dinner over and over and over again to feel helpful and useful, as her husband is missing. She designed the loop and visits the loop often, but also indicates that she’d like to be free of it.
Charles finds his dad in the past, which could be an example of dementia. He was unable to rescue himself and needed someone else to come get him.
Overall, the book was confusing, but good. At times it rambled on and felt repetitive, but that’s how memories are. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys time loop stories, albeit this one is told in a more relaxed plot structure.
I’ve got a system now. I put a book on hold at the library and when I pick it up I don’t read the blurb. Instead, I open the book and start reading. I try to figure out what the book is about based on the cover and note how long it took before I could figure out the premise.
This one I got right away. The text is the green of old computer text, the last two words are broken, and there’s a clock in the upper left corner. I figured it was time travel, involved computers, and was broken. I was pretty much right.
This is an epistolary novel – one written in a series of documents. In particular: emails, texts, social media posts, articles, and congressional hearing notes. Normally this format wouldn’t appeal to me but time travel is my jam so I read on. Also, I was drawn in immediately. The premise was given in the opening document’s first few lines: “IT WORKS! Seriously, you did it.” and goes on to say this is an email sent from future Ben to past Ben. So there we have it: time travel and future. But the reader knows it’s broken because of the text.
Ben and his friend Adhvan develop a quantum computer that can see one year into the future. They call the company The Future and plan to sell units to the population. The novel doesn’t go into too much detail about what can go wrong, but it does touch on a few things like the future of sports at risk because people can see the end result of the game in advance, the military wants the technology because of course they do, and being able to see your own future.
Ben and Adhvan test their technology out by finding a local news story and trying to prevent the death of someone. This fails. The future, it appears, is set. But as the novel progresses the future becomes unstable. Discrepancies start popping up, between what the prototype computer revealed at different times. The reader finds out why at the end and when it’s revealed some other things fall into place.
The author made time travel remarkably easy for me to follow. Much of the time I’m along for the ride but I can barely comprehend the plot, consequences, or technology. In this novel, I could understand all of that. The plot itself is simple, thankfully, and resolves well.
The author also dealt with exposition exceptionally well. Normally there’d be infodumps or exposition as dialogue as characters explain time travel to each other so the reader can understand it. But here, because the format is documents, the exposition was kept at a minimum and infodumps were inferred. All the emails read like emails and all the texts read like texts between friends. The congressional hearing documents read as I’d expect a transcript to read. The author also managed to keep the character’s voices distinct by demonstrating how they formatted emails, worded texts, and used all caps in addition to their choice of words and sentence structure.
I’d recommend this book to anyone. This is a good entry-level time travel book, a good primer before getting into some seriously confusing novels.