Dexter Palmer | Version Control (Pantheon)

Philip has created a causality violation device, which is a fancy way of saying “time machine.”


Version Control has to be the most complex, ambitious, captivating, confusing, and scientific book I’ve ever read. Surprisingly, despite a fair amount of physics-speak, a nonscientist can keep up with the narrative pretty well. This is due to the brilliance of the book’s author, who crafts well-rounded, interesting, sympathetic characters, believably interacting with, and sometimes caring for, one another.

If there is a main character, it is Rebecca Wright, whose story we get in both flashback and present day. The book begins with Rebecca’s perspective, making her the character with whom we most relate. Of course, we learn about other characters forward and backward, too; Palmer has no trouble alternating points of view, which lets us get to know each player in his or her own regard. In addition to Rebecca, there’s Philip Steiner, her husband and physics genius; Alicia and Carson, two scientists who work in Philip’s lab; Kate, Rebecca’s longtime friend; Woody, Rebecca’s preacher father; and Sean, Philip and Rebecca’s son.

Version Control takes place in the not-too-distant future, a time when, presumably, time travel really could happen. Philip has created a causality violation device, which is a fancy way of saying “time machine” (though he abhors that primitive label). The idea is that, by entering the device, an object (such as the robot being used in his lab) can go back an hour in time. This will be obvious by its instantaneous return, the only change being its clock running an hour late. There are all sorts of complicated things to account for, of course, including the change of the earth’s axis, albeit slight, between now and one hour ago.

Surrounding this central, science fiction premise are subtle differences in Palmer’s future world compared to today. Self-driving cars are the norm, not the exception; the President speaks personally to each citizen on a regular basis; the Dakotas are at a standoff with the rest of the nation, possibly driving the country into civil war; different presidents have replaced the faces presently on U.S. currency. There’s enough to make the story believable in the future, without alienating readers, like me, who are comfortably rooted in the present.

Of course, I can’t tell you what happens, either with the characters or the causality violation device. I can’t tell you what is revealed about the future world, something rather insinuating and frightening. But I can tell you this is a book both entertaining and challenging—and one you won’t soon forget. | Laura Hamlett

About Laura Hamlett 438 Articles
Laura Hamlett is the Managing Editor of PLAYBACK:stl. In a past life, she was also a music publicist and band manager. Besides music, books, and other forms of popular culture, she's a fan of the psychology behind true crime and violent criminals. Ask her about mass murder...if you dare.

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