Finding the Multiverse

by Jeff Cann

Let’s start with a definition: The multiverse is an infinite realm of being or potential being of which the universe is regarded as a part or instance.

adams county library

Haha, just kidding. That’s actually the definition Google gave me, but it does me no good; I don’t know what the heck it means. Let’s try Merriam-Webster: a theoretical reality that includes a possibly infinite number of parallel universes.

Better. Let me try: Each time existence hits a decision point, the universe splits. Should I brush my teeth? In one universe, I do. In the split-off, I don’t. A parallel universe forms where I have an infinitesimal bit of extra tooth decay. In theory, this happens continually. Endless and exponential growth, each universe splits again, then those two split, now four, now eight, sixteen… Think about it, since the beginning of existence, gazillions of universes formed. In one of these, the Big Bang still hasn’t happened.

The first time the multiverse hit me over the head was in the 1998 movie Sliding Doors. Gwyneth Paltrow’s character Helen dashes for a subway train. The movie splits. In one version, she makes the train; in the other version, she doesn’t. She discovers her husband is having an affair, and she doesn’t. Sliding Doors recounts how Helen’s life differs in two possible versions of her future.

I don’t remember if the movie was any good—Rotten Tomatoes gave it 65%, so probably not—but the concept had a huge impact on me. I began devouring novels about the Multiverse. The mind-bending stories snare me mentally in a way that no others can. When people at work ask me about my favorite reading genre, I say “The Multiverse.”

Because I work at a library, a copy of the book industry periodical BookPage makes its way across my desk every month. Because I’m so sci-fi-focused (and BookPage is not), I rarely see any books that interest me. Still, I always read it cover to cover. Not too long ago, a book caught my eye. Actually, the cover of a book caught my eye. The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz has a clock on its cover. Often, novel covers featuring clocks are stories about automatons. Ok, we need another definition: a moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

Automaton books are another one of my fringe reading genres—I have several: religious, archaeological thrillers might be my fringiest—and the cover shown in BookPage made me stop and read the synopsis.

Since I don’t have BookPage handy, I’ve grabbed the blurb out of Amazon:

1992: After a confrontation at a riot grrl concert, seventeen-year-old Beth finds herself in a car with her friend’s abusive boyfriend dead in the backseat. She agrees to help her friends hide the body. This murder sets Beth and her friends on a path of escalating violence and vengeance as they realize many other young women in the world need protecting too.

2022: Determined to use time travel to create a safer future, Tess has dedicated her life to visiting key moments in history and by editing those events, implementing change. But rewriting the timeline isn’t as simple as editing one person or event. And just when Tess believes she’s found a way to make an edit that actually sticks, she encounters a group of dangerous travelers bent on stopping her at any cost.

Ooh, time travel AND punk rock. This book is truly written for me. A few weeks later, I saw it on the library shelf.

So a brief review: This book seems like it would be difficult to write. Creating a world where the characters can edit history requires establishing a new set of physical and metaphysical laws of nature. Newitz manages this task and many others with skill. The story braids together a serious science fiction plot, teen romance, murder, Gilded Age history, domestic abuse, and feminism. And by the time I got near the end of the book, I realized I was reading about the Multiverse as well.

While the book is very much plot-driven, Newitz doesn’t skimp on character development. Lots of characters; I think Newitz manages to turn most of them into people. Because it’s primarily written from the point of view of two women, we get to know them the best, but the believable dialogue and scenes help round out the remaining characters.

The pace of the book is solid throughout. The convention of passing the storytelling back and forth between two characters was well balanced. Each plot line kept my attention and kept me guessing how things would turn out at the end of the book.

And then there’s the Multiverse. Those history edits can make sweeping changes in the future. As these play out in the book, it’s clear that parallel timelines run adjacent to each other, and a lucky edit can cause them to merge, cross, and collide.

The Future of Another Timeline isn’t a flawless book—with so much tampering with history, a few flaws pop out—but it’s the most ambitious sci-fi book I’ve read in a very long time. And it works. I’d give this book four stars. And that’s the average score (4.2) coming from 785 other reviewers on Amazon.

If you’d like to learn more about the Multiverse, I recommend The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter (also in our collection). This story lays out the Multiverse in a clear, deliberate, and interesting way.

Jeff Cann is Finance Director of the Adams County Library System.

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