Tom Barren comes from the world we were supposed to have. One where if you have a black eye you have a home medical drone ice it; if you get a cut, medical technicians help you with skin-regeneration lamps; the streets are filled with buildings that are ‘encased in landscape emulators to give you the view you’d have if no other structures existed to block it’. But something goes wrong.
Our narrator, Tom, is an underachiever in his 30s. His dad, a genius who has his own lab dedicated to time travel, has hired him, out of pity, to work as a ‘chrononaut’. A ‘chrononaut’ is as scientific as an astronaut, and needs the preparedness of one too. They are going to be important for the book’s Big Event: in July 2016 Tom’s father is planning on sending someone back in time. And the chances of Tom being involved in the project is pretty slim, as he is shadowing a woman called Penelope – a super woman, on top of all the chrononauts in terms of intelligence and ability – who he falls in love with. But they sleep together the night before the mission and Penelope gets pregnant. Tom ruins the day, and the following years. He loses Penelope. And everything.
Distraught, he uses his father’s prototype machine to go from 2016 to 1965, back to the day Lionel Goettreider, a celebrated inventor of an engine that generates unlimited, clean energy, was about to turn on his invention. But Tom destroys that moment too, by being seen by Lionel.
Tom then wakes up in a hospital, as someone called John, a famed architect, successful, and talented, with a sister by his bedside who he did not have before. He finds Penelope, or Penny, a warmer version of the Penelope he loved, who returns his love. Although, Tom as John is not a nice person. He is chauvinistic and dreadful. And so his inward battle begins.
I enjoyed reading All Our Wrong Todays: the initial world building, the complexities of the self, characters and personality and family relationships, the narrative angst – Tom describes the book at one point as ‘semi-coherent science fiction’, and the fun times when Tom is perplexed by his own narrative stance, ‘I don’t know why I’m describing the events as if I’m not a part of them,’ etc. I particularly liked the moments of literary self-consciousness, ‘I went back to chapter 11 and cut out a few indiscreet comments.’
There was quite a lot of heavy signposting in the book: bizarrely we get a couple of chapter summaries of what we have just read, and strange offers of hand holding with the reader (‘If you want to remember what happened the last time I visited July 11 1965, go reread chapters 44 to 54.’). And I was worried I was going to develop a pluming anxiety: the repetition of the words ‘plume’ and ‘plumes’ throughout I found irked me somewhat, although maybe that’s just me being finicky.
Elan Mastai’s very successful roots in television writing are clear. It’s a delightfully cinematic book, and I can definitely see it translating to film or television very well.
‘All Our Wrong Todays’ by Elan Mastai was published by Michael Joseph on 2nd March 2017, hardback £14.99.