Speculative fiction allows the constants of our reality to change, giving readers a glimpse of how those shifts might affect their own lives. This trio of novels use time travel and prophesy to craft compelling, all-too-human stories.
In Kate Mascarenhas’ superb debut novel, The Psychology of Time Travel, four female scientists in 1967 discover the secret of time travel. At the news conference announcing their discovery, however, one of the women, Barbara, has a mental breakdown that threatens to undermine the value of their discovery. To protect their work, the other three scientists exile Barbara from the project.
Jumping to 2017, Barbara, now a grandmother, receives a newspaper clipping of a murder that will occur in the future. Her granddaughter, Ruby, is convinced that one of the scientists is trying to warn Barbara of her impending murder. Ruby must follow this clue from the future to unravel the mystery and save her grandmother.
Mascarenhas conjures a world in which time travel not only exists but also has its own legal system, currency and lingo. She meticulously weaves the stories of multiple female characters as they—both older and younger versions of themselves—jump back and forth in time to create a delightfully complex, multilayered plot. To all of this, Mascarenhas adds a thoroughly satisfying murder mystery. The Psychology of Time Travel heralds the arrival of a master storyteller.
Mike Chen’s Here and Now and Then provides another enjoyable venture into time travel. In this novel, Kin Stewart is caught between two worlds separated by almost 150 years. Originally a time-traveling agent with the Temporal Corruption Bureau in 2142, Kin becomes stranded in 1996 when a mission goes awry. Breaking bureau rules, Kin takes a job in IT and starts a family as his memories of 2142 degrade. When an accident alerts a retriever agent to return Kin to 2142, where only two weeks have passed, Kin must confront his divided loyalties between his adolescent daughter, who may be eliminated as a timeline corruption, and the family he cannot remember in 2142.
Although Chen’s novel is set in a futuristic world, it is ultimately about the bond between a father and his daughter. While Kin’s dilemma is one that readers will never face, they will be drawn in by the human questions at its heart.
In Sharma Shields’ The Cassandra, young Mildred Groves has the gift of prophesy—and the curse that no one wants to heed her warnings. Mildred escapes an abusive home and takes a job as a secretary at Washington’s Hanford research facility in 1945, where workers are sworn to secrecy as scientists create “the product”—plutonium for the first atomic bombs. At first, Mildred is happy to be a part of something so big and important. However, as the product comes closer to completion, she begins to have nightmarish visions of the destruction that will be wrought on the people of Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Hanford facility. She feels compelled to warn those in power, even as her own well-being disintegrates. But to what end?
Shields has written a brilliant modern retelling of the classic myth of Cassandra. While this is not an easy novel to read, as the imagery becomes increasingly gruesome, it is a pleasure to be immersed in a myth so deftly woven into an apt historical context. The Cassandra should not be missed by those interested in Greek mythology, the Hanford project or beautifully crafted stories.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.