You don’t have to be a sci-fi wonk to be captivated by All Our Wrong Todays, Elan Mastai’s inventive tale about time travel.
Mastai’s debut novel has become a publishing sensation. Translation rights have been sold in 25 countries, while the American rights were auctioned for a seven-figure sum.
All Our Wrong Todays may share several elements with the quintessential time-travel film, Back to the Future, and its sequels, but the futuristic world of the novel goes beyond the flat screen TVs, hover-boards and flying cars that appear in the 1980s blockbusters.
Mastai has created a techno-utopia where everyone’s material needs can be met and global warming is no longer a threat. The great challenges facing humanity have been resolved though technology in this imagined world of 2016.
There are also the requisite sci-fi lifestyle innovations. New clothing is chemically reconstituted from old clothing, holidays on the moon are weekend jaunts and hover-cars provide door-to door, public transportation.
The protagonist, Tom Barren, is a 32-year-old shlemiel without ambition. He can’t stick to any career path and he’s a great disappointment to his father, Victor Barren, a genius and an acclaimed scientist.
Victor has invented a cutting-edge, time-travel apparatus at his Toronto lab. In this era of 2016, time travel is the new space frontier. Victor is about to realize his life’s work, when Tom inadvertently sabotages the world’s first time-travel mission.
That launch is aborted, but Tom embarks on an unauthorized time-travel mission. His father’s machine was programmed to send the first time-traveller, back to 1965 to witness the greatest event in history – the exact moment the engine that generates endless clean energy was turned on. This machine made Tom’s techno-utopia possible.
The engine’s inventor, a Danish Holocaust survivor, has become a much-revered hero in that futuristic world of 2016. There are statues of him, books about him and museums showcasing his work.
Through some blundering, Tom accidentally interferes with the historic start-up of the engine. Like Marty McFly in Back to the Future, Tom discovers that his meddling with the past has impacted the future.
When he is teleported back to 2016, he suddenly finds himself in an alternate reality. He’s in the 2016 of our current, less-technically advanced era. He is caught between this world and the one he grew up in. Now Tom must contend with John, his egotistical alter ego, and a different version of his family and love interest.
The first part of book takes place in the futuristic utopia. We meet Tom’s parents, the women in his life, and we learn about the events that lead up to his ill-fated, time-travel mission. The author has set the stage for a narrative of twists and turns as Tom grapples with his new reality, in the present-day 2016.
He is an unlikely hero, with a daunting inner conflict. He must decide which 2016 he will live in. Should he forge a life in his new imperfect world or should he revisit 1965 and fix the error that irradiated his utopian world?
While the action is punctuated with many humorous moments, the book also has a serious core. Mastai explores the tension between the demands of personal relationships and the drive for professional and/or social status. The question he poses is: what values make life meaningful?
The book can also be viewed as an allegorical tale about the many unexpected directions a life can take and the various paths one may follow in a single lifetime.
Mastai grew up in Vancouver, but he is a Toronto resident. He may be a new novelist, but he is an accomplished screenwriter. He won a Canadian Screen Award for best adapted script for The “F” Word, a 2013 romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan.
Paramount has bought the film rights for All Our Wrong Todays and Mastai is currently working on the screenplay.