After interviewing author Dexter Palmer at New York Comic Con, I was excited to read Version Control. Palmer was very careful to avoid any spoilers and I will do the same in this review. He’s right – the book is best enjoyed with no ideas going into it. I will warn you not to make the mistake I did – this is not a good commuting book, unless your commute is really long. Mine is about 20 minutes of train time and that was just not enough. I found myself re-reading a lot just because the pace of the book is such that it needs to be read in large pieces. You need to fall into the story, wholly and completely, and the time to do that is important. This is a reading on a quiet afternoon or reading for an hour before bed type story. It’s not an action-packed, keep you up at night thriller but is a fascinating journey that deserves to be savored with time to think, ponder, and process.
The book jacket describes this as “The compelling story of a couple living in the wake of a personal tragedy. She is a star employee of an online dating company, while he is a physicist, performing experiments that, if ever successful, may have unintended consequences, altering the nature of their lives—and perhaps of reality itself.
Rebecca Wright has gotten her life back, finding her way out of grief and depression following a personal tragedy years ago. She spends her days working in customer support for the Internet dating site where she first met her husband. However, she has a persistent, strange sense that everything around her is somewhat off-kilter: she constantly feels as if she has walked into a room and forgotten what she intended to do there; on TV, the President seems to be the wrong person in the wrong place; and each night she has disquieting dreams that may or may not be related to her husband Philip’s pet project. Philip’s decade-long dedication to the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you do not call a “time machine”) has effectively stalled his career and made him a laughingstock in the physics community. But he may be closer to success than either of them knows or imagines…” As you might imagine, this is an accurate description but not a complete one.
The book alternates between the perspective of Rebecca and Philip with an occasional foray into one of the secondary characters. All of the characters, even the secondary ones, are well developed with the two main characters being complete and realistic. It would be easy for a story with time travel as a premise to get cheesy or out of hand and having such realistic characters keeps it grounded. By the end, the characters feel like friends and you completely understand why they do what they do. There are some characters who are likely on the autism spectrum, though it’s never explicitly said, and their behavior is explained in a way that it does make sense and you learn more about the character for it. I also appreciated how the author included race for the characters. It arose in a way that seemed natural – as in you are told a character is black by something another character says to them or by a thought that character has about how he/she is affected by his/her race. From my admittedly white standpoint, this seems like the way that a person’s race has an effect in normal American life – the white people don’t have to think about it except in rare circumstances and people of color have it come up more often (sometimes daily) as it relates to other people’s perceptions about them. Again, it’s another way that the author makes these characters feel real, even if the story is premised on the fantastical. It’s also nice to see genuine female friendships, the good and the bad.
I also have to give the author credit for keeping the science in science fiction. There’s some pretty “out-there” ideas happening sometimes, but it’s clear that he did his research along the way and is just as interested in making the science seem real as he is in making the characters seem real. As a science nerd, I definitely appreciate not being pulled out of a story by some concept that just makes no sense at all. I’m willing to suspend a lot of disbelief, but I enjoyed this story more for the fact that I didn’t have to suspend much.
This book may not be for everyone. If you like your sci-fi action packed, fast-paced, or not inspiring some deep thoughts (or just want that kind of book right now), then this isn’t the book for you. If you want a book that pulls you into a world that’s just different enough to be fascinating and thought-provoking, then pick this one up. Savor it, don’t read it in small bits like I did, and enjoy where this one takes you.
Version Control comes to shelves February 2016.
Overall Rating: 8
Pantheon Publishing provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review