Eight elite brothers and sisters try to survive the regular upheavals caused by reckless time traveling.
Huston’s debut novel, starting a new sci-fi series (planned as 10 books), delivers a clever time-travel conceit. It involves the consequences of time travel (immortalized in Ray Bradbury’s “A Sound of Thunder”): reality in the “present” shifts due to temporal meddling in the past. After time travel becomes feasible, the U.S. has a new metropolis—Shawneetown, Illinois, evidently displacing Chicago, created through engineering by entrepreneurial voyagers. But for the Vann family of Shawneetown, life means periodic, bewildering paradigm shifts, as new waves of reality hit one after another, sending the clan scrambling to dimensional “Safe Houses.” The Vanns never know whether former careers, relationships, or even their personalities still exist. At least they are semi-protected; most people are oblivious “Bystanders,” erased or created whenever another human-caused Timestorm arrives. To the time-travel insiders, Bystanders are as inconsequential as Harry Potter’s muggles. The narrative (which is epistolary, journal entries via some form of recording device) reflects the point of view of young, uncertain Dexter Vann, an aspiring engineer warned not to count on finishing college by oldest brother Amos (an elite in the enigmatic time-travel governing body). Every few chapters, a new reality (“Season”) dawns. Some Seasons are harsh and weird; others are pleasant. But with Time Changes happening 250 times already, Dexter suffers a bad case of existential dread, turning very personal when he emerges into a reality in which his “Alternate Self” possessed a girlfriend he has never actually met. The tale is somewhat hobbled plotwise by its premise. The challenge here is advancing a storyline that resets itself on a regular basis. Huston manages some momentum, partially thanks to the recurring menace of a vengeful time “Void Pirate” but mainly through reliable inventiveness. There’s a newspaper—actually an “Oldspaper”—for the time-travel clique; time-related neuroses that surface to varying degrees in Dexter’s older and younger siblings (a glossary is included); and the protagonist’s own inconsistent voice. It’s difficult enough to find an identity as a youth; it’s much harder with reality routinely rewritten. Underlying the wit, wonder, and surprises is a theme of family bonds holding characters together despite the whole Chronoverse going crazy. The material is attuned to both YA and adult sensibilities.
An innovative time-travel tale in which the main characters don’t actually visit the past or the future.