There are a lot of bad books in the world. I know that, because I get many of them for Christmas every year. In all fairness, I’m not really blaming my friends and relatives for this – I tend to be non-specific regarding my wish list and tell them to go with their respective guts when buying me books. That way, I get to read a lot of books I wouldn’t have read otherwise. And as it happens, quite a few of these books are dreadful.
However, in the case of All Our Wrong Todays, I can blame nobody but myself. Except for Elan Mastai, the guy who wrote it. I blame him too. But this was a book I’d actually mentioned pre-Christmas as something I specifically wanted to read, and I can’t remember many books I’ve looked more forward to reading in recent years (Nudge, nudge, George RR). Especially when it was in the middle of my post-Christmas reading pile, in between dramatic-sounding but ultimately nonsensical action thriller titles and an actual children’s book (My father got me Bad Dad by David Walliams. He’s big on underwhelming ironic humour). The point is: There are a lot of bad books in the world. It is not necessary to make a good idea into another bad book.
The premise of the book is that the future people envisioned during the middle of the twentieth century actually happened, in all its teleporting, hover car-driving, space-touristing glory. However, a time travel mishap causes our protagonist to end up in our timeline, in all its train-commuting, reality show-inhabiting misery (Reality shows aren’t ever actually mentioned. I’m making a reasonable assumption about what someone from a superior society would judge ours for).
Sounds intriguing, right? I’m a sucker for a good premise and this one was irresistible. A lot of room for nuanced reflection around our society and technology, about predictions and coincidences, while at the same time leaving plenty of room for an entertaining story. But in the biggest waste of potential since Roy Hodgson was allowed to manage Liverpool FC, Elan Mastai defiles the world he has created by using it as nothing more than a backdrop for a cringeworthy, generic, and patronising young adult love story. Rather than embarking on experimental thinking about the pros and cons of our technological situation, this is a book almost exclusively about a wanky guy called Tom and his obsession with a girl called Penny (Well, technically two girls, as she’s different people in the different timelines. This book gives you all the confusion and paradoxes of a time travel novel without any of the thoughtful insight).
I mentioned in my review of It Can’t Happen Here that the big glaring problem with the book was a matter of priorities. The plot in and of itself is brilliant, but the tale of how a civilised society can drag itself into fascism is constantly interrupted by the goings-on in the private life of a news editor with a peculiar name (Doremus). Upon reflection, I’ve started to feel like this is actually the problem with most books – normally, a book won’t make it into publishing if there’s nothing appealing about the story. Books become bad when writers start caring about the wrong things and nobody around them says “Elan, dude, there is not a single humanoid in existence who gives a fraction of a shit about Tom and his Pennies.”
(Sorry, normally I like to limit myself to only one Dan Brown-bash per post unless I’m actually talking about a Dan Brown book. I will be better in the future.)
In summary, I would like to make a suggestion to Mr Mastai. I declare on behalf of everyone who has read this book that we will happily return our copies to you and pretend like it never existed, on the condition that you re-write it, but get it fucking right this time. This arrangement is both very much in the spirit of the book, as we would be creating an alternative timeline of sorts, and additionally it would let me put the new book on my wish list for next Christmas, where it would take up a space under the tree that would otherwise be occupied by an action thriller with a dumb title.