Version Control: A Book Review

Version Control

Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

As someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about time travel and how to use it in fiction, or even place it orthogonal to the story, I tend to dive into books with time travel with gusto and a keen eye towards how someone else might have done it.
So when I saw Version Control on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and had a coupon burning a hole in my pocket, I couldn’t help grabbing it. From the jacket copy it sounded like a quirky, funny take on inventing a time machine with a bit of a heart.

And while the book is funny (the dream of YHWH as the worst of all possible tenants towards the end of the book is hilarious), it’s not as funny as I’d expected. The grief and depression and general unsettledness of the age in which the book is set is far more prominent, but Palmer earns it with a thorough depiction of Rebecca and Philip’s relationship from the very start to the very end(s). Dexter Palmer fits in musings on love in the digital age, race relations and predispositions, scientific progress, our busy, unforgetting world, all swirling around the lovely and sad family story of Rebecca, Philip, and Sean.

The time machine, the causality violation device, around which the novel works isn’t a flash-bang time machine of H.G. Wells, but almost like a harpist, plucking at strings, jumping from this one to the next, the problems of history and continuity handled in an interesting, subtle way by Palmer. In fact, you (and they) are not even sure it *is* working at all. And that’s the same way the book worked for me — not a thunderbolt but just something that felt perfectly right.

It’s a different conception of a time machine from the one Sam and Laura build in Trip to the Quiet Room — their time machine fits in a bathtub, a storage shed, or a barn and tends to shred sheep in a very messy way, but with bubbles — but I loved his take on it, it felt natural, plausible, and fit so well into the story.

Two thumbs up, go and give it a read.