All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai
Science Fiction (2017 - 369 pp.)
In All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai confronts a fun, quirky question with seemingly no real-world application: what if our world were a shimmering utopia, but then someone from that utopia came to our world? The protagonist, Tom Barren, is an unremarkable son of a great scientist, who becomes involved in his father's time travel experiments. Naturally, Tom ends up rocketing back from 2016 to 1965, when the universe diverged, and then boomeranging back to our 2016 as famous architect John Barren. Our world appears as a dystopia, of course, including the fact that we use doorknobs. (They spread germs!) Adding to the fun is that both the utopia and the normal world are set in Toronto.
Tom consistently sells himself short. He passes through the laboratory basement where Lionel Gottreider invented the Gottreider Engine, a device that creates the boundless energy required to create the utopian world. Tom later discovers that he and John were connected all along, and that John's forward-looking architectural designs were channeled by seeing utopia through Tom's eyes. Tom/John's slow realization of how great he can be when combining Tom's magnanimity with John's ambition is the crux of the book, character-wise. On the other hand, Tom obsesses about sex, which takes up far too much of the book's content. The details of Gottreider's personal life stretch the book out too far at the end, so the final product could have been 20-30 pages shorter, but my enjoyment wasn't impaired.
Then, I always like seeing how the settings resolve themselves. I liked the utopian setting more than the real setting. Whether that says anything about me, I'm not sure, but I would have loved to have seen more travel between the two worlds. For Tom to have been surprised by his own utopia at some point would have been fun. The characters are realer in the real world setting, though, including a mother and sister who help bring the Barren family to life.
Mastai is a screenwriter by trade, which shows in the writing style - everything is crisp and conversational. P.D. James-style examination of an entire room is not to be found here, which is good (it moves the story along faster) and bad (the science fiction-y stuff in the alternate world would have been really cool to see in more description). Mastai's style sets the tone from the first page. Whereas a more traditional science fiction writer might have used a opening to set the scene, or to present the cube that reveals itself to be a tesseract, All Our Wrong Todays starts out as cold as possible: "So, the thing is, I come from the world we were supposed to have." (1) That sentence immediately makes the reader curious while also not at all revealing that the world we were supposed to have involves space suits.
All Our Wrong Todays has 137 chapters, some as short as a page. This has the psychological impact of helping the reader stick around longer, as it's easy to say "just one more chapter before bed" when that chapter is only a couple pages. Others, like Chapter 43 ("Summary - Chapters 1 to 42") are narrator inserts. Mastai's use of formatting to move along the plot is one of the most fun parts of the book. This is one of 2017's page turners: science fiction enough to stir the imagination, popular enough to read quickly, and with new content constantly on the reader's plate.
Ease of Reading: 9
Educational Content: 2