Screenwriter Mastai's debut novel is the story of the world's first and, unfortunately for us all, most unqualified time traveler.
July 11, 1965, is the day the world changed. It’s the day that physicist Lionel Goettreider turns on his new creation, the Goettreider Engine, which works better than he or his 16 witnesses ever imagined: the machine generates an unlimited source of clean energy. How does it work? “It has something to do with magnetism and gravity and...honestly, I don't know...it just works. Or it did. Before, you know, me.” This me is Tom Barren, who comes from “the world we were supposed to have.” Tom is not from the future but rather a wildly different and more advanced 2016. His reality is a place marked by the “absence of material want,” and yet Tom isn’t happy. His career and love life are going nowhere, and, considering he is the son of the foremost scientist in the field of time travel, he is pretty much a failure. But then his father intervenes and hires him to become the understudy of Penelope Weschler, the insanely driven woman preparing to become one of the world’s first “chrononauts,” the fancy term for time traveler. Tom is there in case Penelope royally messes up, which would never happen. But then Tom falls in love with Penelope and Penelope notices, and everything unravels—so much so that Tom finds himself emotionally broken and activating the time machine without permission to go back to July 11, 1965, the moment his world began. And since Tom is not Penelope, things go horribly wrong. Mastai’s novel is both charming and wondrously plotted—Tom’s self-deprecation in the beginning seems to limit his potential as a character and yet, in the end, he’s an impressive feat of memory and consciousness. Mastai considers not only the workings, but the consequences (and there are many) of time travel, packing so much into the last 100 pages it feels as if there’s literal weight pressing on your mind.
"Existence is not a thing with which to muck around," and yet that’s exactly what fantastic storytelling attempts, warping reality, perception, and truth—and hopefully entertaining us as well as this novel does.