Book Review: Version Control

Version Control
Published By: Pantheon
Publication Date: February 23, 2016
Page Count: 512
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher
Audience: Adult - Science Fiction

To Rebecca Wright, the world feels just a little wrong. Everything from the taste of familiar foods to the face of the President is not-quite-right. Philip, her brilliant physicist husband whose lab is trying to get their causality violation device to work, can’t understand her irrational feeling. Is reality changing? Is history being rewritten? 

 Version Control is a book that is difficult to review – not because it’s a bad book, but because it is a complicated one. Palmer uses the points of view of his complex and deeply flawed characters to highlight different layers of reality, and the narrative jumps around in the chronology of the story. At several points I felt like I didn’t know what was happening when I should have. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Reading Version Control was a very “meta” experience. As I read, I experienced the slightly-off déjà vu that Rebecca feels throughout the story. A disconcerting experience to be sure, but a very effective technique on the part of the author. 

 I keep going around and around settling on the number of birdies I think this book deserves. Palmer is clearly a good writer: great style, creative, thought provoking. However, I never really felt invested in any of the characters because they were pretty messed up people making pretty messed up choices. (It made me think of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.) But then again, the story tackles issues like the nature of reality, free will, and presents a novel take on the difficulties of time travel. If you like character-driven science fiction and have a high tolerance for narrative discontinuity, Version Control probably merits four or four and a half birdies. For those with a more general SF bent I would give it three.

The acclaimed author of The Dream of Perpetual Motion returns with a compelling novel about the effects of science and technology on our friendships, our love lives, and our sense of self. 

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.

Version Control is about a possible near future, but it’s also about the way we live now. It’s about smart phones and self-driving cars and what we believe about the people we meet on the Internet. It’s about a couple, Rebecca and Philip, who have experienced a tragedy, and about how they help--and fail to help--each other through it. Emotionally powerful and stunningly visionary, Version Control will alter the way you see your future and your present.