REVIEW: The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

The Psychology of Time Travel.jpeg

Author: Kate Mascarenhas (twitter / website)

UK Publisher: Head of Zeus

Genre: Science fiction, murder mystery

Release Date: 9th August 2018

1967 -Four female scientists invent a time travel machine. They are on the cusp of fame: the pioneers who opened the world to new possibilities. But then one of them suffers a breakdown and puts the whole project in peril…

2017 –  Ruby knows her beloved Granny Bee was a pioneer, but they never talk about the past. Though time travel is now big business, Bee has never been part of it. Then they receive a message from the future – a newspaper clipping reporting the mysterious death of an elderly lady…

2018 –  When Odette discovered the body she went into shock. Blood everywhere, bullet wounds, that strong reek of sulphur. But when the inquest fails to find any answers, she is frustrated. Who is this dead woman that haunts her dreams? And why is everyone determined to cover up her murder?

Aside from Doctor Who, the Back to the Future trilogy, and that bit in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, my experience with time travel narratives is fairly narrow. I find paradox situations stressful, so Looper was not a comfortable viewing experience for me, and that episode of the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror where Homer keeps going back in time and smashing butterflies is really rather concerning for me.

So, it was actually a bit of a delight to discover that this book doesn’t have paradoxes. In fact, the nature of time travel within the narrative is such that paradoxes don’t exist. Time is fixed, and you know what will happen because it already has. Instead, what The Psychology of Time Travel focuses on is – uh – the psychology of time travel. It asks the questions of how you live a normal life when you know when you will die and when your family will die. It asks how you can return to normal life after being a time traveler and suddenly finding yourself fixed in time. And it asks how you can have a normal relationship when one of you is living your life out of sync.

I loved so many things about this book, the questions it asked and the characters it presented. Not only was the psychology of the title focused on the time travellers themselves, but also their families, their partners and children, and how it changed the very nature of their lives by the sheer proximity. Thematically, it reminded me a lot of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, but I found it much easier to read, because where that focused on the physics of time travel and pocket universes, this brought things down to a more personal level and the span of characters at different life stages, but also with different relationships to time travel, made it easier to digest and gave a wonderful range of insight.

Each chapter of the novel provides a separate viewpoint, and all of the narrative characters are women who are somehow related to the original four pioneers, the inventors of time travel. For me, the three main threads were from Barbara, one of the pioneers who suffers a nervous breakdown and is all but written out of the history of time travel; Ruby, her granddaughter and a clinical psychologist; and Odette, a young girl who finds an anonymous body in a toy museum and wants to discover the mystery behind it. Interspersed amongst these threads are chapters from the perspective of other women whose lives twist and tangle with the main characters. It was delightful to read a novel with such diversity of cast – all women, of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, and neurotypes, all talking about science and psychology and the philosophy of knowing when you will die, or who you will marry, or how your children will grow up.

I felt this book really picked out aspects of time travel which I hadn’t seen touched upon in depth before. Whilst Doctor Who occasionally talks about how travelling through time and space changes people, and makes it hard for them to return to daily life, it doesn’t delve more deeply than that very often. The creative of the Conclave within the book, a time travelling agency, and their professional culture as well as the impact it has had on popular culture is really interesting to track. Rather than focusing on the science side of time travel, Mascarenhas has instead chosen to examine the socio-cultural aspects of it, using a selection of characters to demonstrate and explore the different facets of this on a micro scale, to give a broader impression of the macro impact. Another detail I also loved was the inclusion at the end of the book of the psychometric tests which are discussed at length during the book, developed for the Conclave to ensure that all their workers are still psychologically safe to undertake time travel.

All in all I really enjoyed this book. Aside from the cover being beautiful, it raises ideas which I have only really considered in passing in relation to time travel, and cracks them wide open for deeper investigation. If you are more of a fan of the physics of time travel, this might not be the book for you; however if you like seeing how things could impact and change a society and culture, you will find plenty to get your teeth into here.

Briefly:

  • A full cast of strong, smart women, of different races and backgrounds, meaning the book absolutely smashes the Bechdel Test and makes for a very refreshing read.
  • This is a thoughtful and philosophical approach to the effects of time travel, taking into consideration not just the traveller but those around them, and the psychological impact that can have. Changing attitudes to death, aging, relationships are all documented and demonstrated as the initial impact of time travel ripples out from the traveller to all the people connected with them.
  • It’s all handled very lightly too – nothing is too bogged down with a need to explain the whys and wherefores of the science. It is how it is, that is all you need to know. Anything else that becomes relevant is revealed as and went needed, meaning there aren’t huge blocks of exposition to slow the story progress.
  • I would have liked to hear more from Lucille, as the only one of the Pioneers we don’t hear much from, however her story appears to be more removed from the central plot so more appearances by her would have been extraneous.
  • If you want a decent contrast for a totally different perspective on time travel, I think this would pair very neatly with How To Live Safely In A Science Fictional Universe, which is a more physics-based approach to the topic, with a touch of humour.

Rating: 5/5 – it wasn’t a perfect book, but I really felt like it did something completely new and very refreshing with an age-old topic.

The Psychology of Time Travel is released on 9th August.

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