Dexter Palmer’s second novel, Version Control, is the kind of rich, multilayered book that often feels like it is raising more questions than answers. The first is the question of exactly what type of book it is: Is it a deeply personal story of a marriage and the human condition, or is it a cerebral exploration of the world of astrophysics and time travel? Is it science fiction or literary fiction?
A description does little to clear this matter up. Version Control tells the story of married couple Rebecca and Philip Wright. Rebecca works in customer support for a web-based dating service, while Philip is a scientist who has been toiling on what some might call a time machine (though he adamantly refers to it as a “causality violation device”) that has made him a joke in the physics community. Though the two have known heartbreak and disappointment, their life together is generally comfortable. Yet Rebecca can’t shake the feeling that the world is “wrong.” Could Philip’s device be the way to set things right? Or might it actually be the source of Rebecca’s anxiety and unease?
Expansive in scope, Version Control burrows into issues of science and technology, religion, relationships, racism and free will. It would be easy for issues to overshadow the story, but Palmer—who has a Ph.D. in English from Princeton—deftly keeps the many components in harmony. The result is an intellectual novel that feels surprisingly intimate and accessible. Weighty yet emotionally rewarding, Version Control will appeal to all curious readers, regardless of their scientific background.