In this sci-fi thriller, preventing a near-future plague may simply entail getting help by sending messages into the past.
Josh Scribner was a mere teen when he conceived the Beetle, a brain implant to treat seizures or neurological disorders. By 2039, the now-billionaire has come to the terrifying conclusion that Beetles may not be remedying such conditions but actually causing them. Each new implant makes the ailment worse, processing loads of data that affect even brains without Beetles and making everyone sick, including Josh’s daughter, Cierra. Fortunately, his physicist pal Min-Jun Dan has a potential solution: use available technology to send a metal marker back in time and establish communication with someone. In 2015, Air Force veteran and pilot trainer Maria Kerrigan stumbles upon a marker dated 1999 and addressed to Dr. Weldon Qualls at Princeton University. Qualls, a published supporter of time travel, enlists Maria’s assistance, not yet aware of what they’ll be preventing. Further correspondence (P.O. boxes and coordinates for new markers) confirms that an attempt to alter the future is unsuccessful. But there’s something bigger at play, as Josh suspects that some deaths in 2039 may not be from the Beetle itself but active assassinations. At the same time, Maria and Qualls, still in 2015, could be in danger. Thomas and Thurkettle’s (Seeing by Moonlight, 2015) time-traveling novel deviates from most other tales of this subgenre by focusing more on concept than action. This preserves simplicity throughout, even as Josh and Min-Jun discuss “other version[s] of now,” slight changes in their own lives as a result of Maria’s missions. The story also introduces a fascinating dilemma: can individuals retain memories from prior versions of themselves? Maria is initially more engaging than the plot, mercilessly tormented by deaths she caused by piloting drones and conversing with “the Voice” in her head. But the twisty second half is pure exhilaration, adding a clear-cut villain and new, essential characters. The authors’ prose is, like the book overall, intelligent and comprehensive, especially with chic terminology like “gravity wake,” a field created by accelerated particles, the essence of traversing space-time.
Complex scientific notions in a story format prove equally entertaining and perceptive.