Version Control by Dexter Palmer

This one was recommended to me during my most recent reading funk by a good friend of mine (thanks, Manuel!).  Understandably curious, I wanted to make sure I was squarely out of that funk so I could give this its proper due.  Most of my reads lately tend to be non-fiction or oriented towards my favorite franchises, so it’s a nice change of pace to return to some serious science fiction.  It’s good to shake things up once in a while, don’t you agree?

I find it ironic that I tend to read about the far past or the far future.  I read to escape the present day, whether my reads are fact or fiction.  This book?  Time travel… present day, or to be more correct, the uncomfortably near future.  But it’s not time travel in the Back to the Future / Doctor Who kind of way.  This is more realistically believable physicists opening causality wormholes, messing with spacetime and the heads of the reader in what I can only call a headtrip.

The thing is, the science isn’t the story.  That’s merely the MacGuffin that the story revolves around, that which kicks the story into motion.  This story is a human story, the kind of tale that feels so very real because you get to know these characters in ways that will cast doubt and shame on a great many books on the market today.  It’s about possibility, the theory of the multiverse — the search for a version of life at its optimum expression of good, whatever that may mean.  For some readers, I can anticipate a disbelieving cry for needing trigger warnings and safe spaces.  Life doesn’t come with these, and neither does this book.  It is visceral in a way that I’ve encountered in so very few books, with a quality of prose, philosophy, and character development to back it up.  In short, it’s real literature for real readers.  It’d designed to make a person think, feel, and run the gauntlet of the whole of human experience without compromising the integrity of your own life.

There is more booze flowing in this one book than in all 14 volumes of Ian Fleming’s original James Bond series.  That is not an exaggeration.  Yes, it is provable and self-evident to anyone who has read those books.

I have well acquainted myself with the multiversal expressions of the same characters across all manner of multimedia (James Bond would be a perfect example of this), where similar traits take different expressions in different portrayals (or lives) of a given character, and the different versions create a conglomerate whole while fans compare and contrast their favorite versions.  For me this is nothing new at all.  I’ve also encountered this concept in other novels that deal specifically with multiversal causality.  That hasn’t worked out quite so well in those cases as novelists tend not to dig deep, thinking the concept alone will service the story, and the authors of those books were less than qualified to write tales that could keep up with my own understanding.  What Palmer has pulled off here is nothing less than stunning on a number of levels.  The characters and the concept are explored, certainly, and that would be more than enough to make it the equal or better of any novel of its kind out there.  But in the grand tradition of the best science fiction in any era, this novel is so much more.  There is an amazing amount of social commentary on where we are and where we’re headed, especially in regards to social media, corporate control, and personal data.  The concepts in play are given to us across the entire spectrum from physics to spiritualism, with all secular points in between as manifest in simple day to day living.  Class, race, gender… this book hits it all, and somehow none of it seems forced or contrived.  And best of all, it demonstrated a natural intelligence in play.  Nothing was dumbed down, but it wasn’t out of reach either.  It’s as though the natural flow of the story pulled me up to its level, which as far as I’m concerned is a breath of fresh air.  I found this book not only fully engaged my imagination, it hit me at the mental and emotional levels, often at the same time.  Every character, every theme, every idea introduced ends up being masterfully pieced together, somehow coming across as a seamless whole even when we spend the entirety of the novel picking the pieces apart and seeing them from several different angles.  Every detail seems effortless, often inconsequential, but it all matters.  For lack of a better comparison, this is the prose equivalent of a symphony.  There are very few novels I can point to that have had that effect on me.  Books like this linger for a lifetime.  Stories like this one make an impact for what they are and how they’re written.  Bravo, Mr. Palmer.  Bravo.

If you happen to opt for the audiobook, you will well rewarded on that level as well.  January LaVoy is a one-woman radio show.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was a single narrator.  I’ve heard her work before, and I’ve always been impressed, but I think this one raised the bar even above what I’ve come to expect.  Beautifully executed all around, the perfect complement to the story being told.

5 stars

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