Version Control by Dexter Palmer: Review

Version Control by Dexter Palmer: Review

Friday, February 26, 2016

Version Control by Dexter Palmer :: Outlandish Lit's Book Review
Version Control by Dexter Palmer
Publisher: Pantheon. Feb 23, 2016.
Pages: 512
Genre: Science Fiction (sort of)
Source: Publisher



Rebecca Wright has reclaimed her life, finding her way out of her 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. But she has a strange, persistent 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; her dreams are full of disquiet. Meanwhile, her husband's decade-long dedication to his invention, the causality violation device (which he would greatly prefer you 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 can possibly imagine. -Goodreads

"Your name is Rebecca, yes?"
"Yes, that's me. If you wish to speak to my--"
"Are you sure? Has it always been?"

Version Control is a time travel book that surprised me in so many ways. I was having some bookish commitment issues lately. I kept starting books then moving on to new ones. So you wouldn't think I'd go for a 512 page chunkster in this situation, right? Well, I did and it paid off. Dexter Palmer has written a subtle and completely immersive novel covering all sorts of my favorite topics such as: online dating, wormholes, memory, loss, big data, difficult marriages, and technology. I was so gripped throughout.

In the near future (ten years or so ahead of us), Rebecca struggles with her job, with a horrible loss, with her relationship with her husband, and with alcohol. Her husband, Philip, invests all of his time in his work on the causality violation device and grows more distant from her. The book moves back and forth in time fluidly, letting us get to know the characters' pasts gradually. It's heart-wrenching. And at the same time that this book had me in its clutches emotionally (I definitely cried), it was hilarious when it comes to commentary on our modern lives. I was laughing constantly throughout the commentary on online dating and how we use the internet. Seeing the groups of scientists interact was also brilliant, and what Palmer had to say about the science world was often biting.

The second [ad] showed up during a quick binge of clips from old Simpsons episodes on YouTube (a photo of an ambiguously ethnic woman with curly hair and clunky black eyeglasses, sitting across a table from an equally ambiguously ethnic man with hazel eyes, a shaven head, and a sweater vest; both had the self-satisfied look of people who were glad they were themselves and not someone else. They probably both had apartments that got lots of sunlight.

Some of the near future bits feel very close: self driving cars; and some feel very far away: personalized video calls from the president before tv shows, during meals, etc. But it's all plausible and fascinating. And once things start to get a little weird, once time gets a little more complicated than it at first seemed, the book travels subtly into scary and amazing territories of what's possible.

I can't imagine this book is for everyone. But at the same time, I'm someone who favors tiny books. The closer to a novella, the better. And I also get bored relatively easily and don't suffer slow plots gladly. So I have to come to the conclusion that this book is very interesting (theoretically and emotionally), and also well written. It's not action packed in the way a lot of time travel books tend to be. Its pace is slower, but steadily moves forward, offering us depth in exchange for thrills. It's also science heavy, which I absolutely loved. Palmer makes the assumption that smart people are reading his book and that they actively enjoy puzzling things (the nature of space-time) out; that they enjoy taking a moment to sit and ponder what the book's implying might be possible both within the story and in our own world.

It's hard to think of things that were bad about this book. Perhaps it was longer than it needed to be. It wasn't completely mind blowing. But this is a complicated book full of ideas that feels more like an experience than a novel. Once you've taken this journey with these characters, it's going to be nearly impossible not to immediately flip back to the beginning and look for where Palmer deftly began putting things in place that we missed earlier. I, personally, can't wait.

The thing about memories wasn't that many of them inevitably faded, but that repeated recall of the ones you remembered burnished them into shining, gorgeous lies.


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