Tom Barren lives in a science fiction dream of the future: flying cars, teleportation, moon colonies, and, as soon as his father completes his experiments, time travel. All of these things exist in 2016, not some far-flung 23rd or 24th century. On July 11, 1965, Lionel Goettreider activated an engine that provided the world with a clean, free energy source that made every sci-fi pulp writer’s visions of the future a reality. While this sounds like a utopian fantasy over sixty years in the making made real, for Tom it is every bit as unlivable as our world often is for us. Tom is aimless, directionless and unable to make lasting connections with either friends or lovers. With his father focused relentlessly on solving the problem of time travel, Tom’s only connection is with his mother, who dotes on his father to everyone's detriment, as well as her own.
When Tom’s mother is killed in a freak accident, his father places him in a position on the time travel team, making him a Chrononaut. Tom has neither the qualifications nor the temperament to be a Chrononaut, yet his father hopes this will keep him out of trouble as he grieves the loss of his mother. It does not work out that way. The Chrononauts resent Tom being thrust into the mission mid-stream and the bad feelings increase as preparations continue. In addition there is Tom’s fascination with Penelope Weschler, the mission’s leader for whom Tom is to function as an understudy. Hours before the mission is to begin, all of these issues cause the mission to abort.
Still grieving the loss of his mother and reeling from a failed attempt to make a romantic connection with Penelope, Tom activates the time machine propelling himself back to July 11, 1965. He had hoped that by completing the aborted mission he would repair his relationship with his father and correct his own deficiencies. He could not be further from the truth. As a direct result of Tom’s presence, Goettreider’s experiment fails and the timeline is altered. When Tom returns from the past he is in the year 2016, and stranded in a world plagued by global warming, the use of fossil fuels, and gluten-free pretzels. He also discovers similar versions of his family, and a life and identity for himself that are entirely unfamiliar. Tom is faced with a choice: he can attempt, with his limited knowledge and understanding of the machinations of time travel, to correct his actions in 1965 that destroyed the world he knew, or he can attempt to slip into a life he has never known, which might be preferable to the life left behind.
In All our wrong todays, debut novelist Elan Mastai, the award-winning screenwriter of The F Word, tells a tale of futures lost and regained, in a voice that is clear and recognizable. The plot is meticulous and complicated, which is typical of most time travel stories with multiple timelines. Mastai goes into a bit of detail pointing out a major flaw of most time travel fiction (one that is readily apparent when noticed, and one only a few recent writers have attempted to tackle). The plot moves fairly smoothly through all 137 chapters (Yes, that’s right, 137 chapters!) Most are very short (on average 1.5 pages), which results in somewhat of an uneven read, with the flow of the story interrupted by the stops and starts of the chapters. Even so, this novel is an enjoyable and thoughtful time travel tale.