May 28, 2016

Edward Aubry: "Unhappenings"

Title: Unhappenings  [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Unhappenings (1st of 2 books)
Author: Edward Aubry [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Sci-Fi
Year: 2015
Age: Can be read from 13-14 on, but because of its complexity and the characters' age, it's essentially geared towards adults
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Fresh concept. Entertaining ride. Nicely blends science (or scientific speculations) with personal issues. Poses interesting - albeit not new - moral dilemmas.
Cons: Characters could have been deeper. Love story turns out to be quite weird (though the author is able to have you buy into it). We don't get all the answers we need. At least one of the twists is easy to figure out.
Will appeal to: Time travel aficionados who wants to see a different angle - with a less sci-fi and more human feel.

Blurb: When Nigel Walden is fourteen, the UNHAPPENINGS begin. His first girlfriend disappears the day after their first kiss with no indication she ever existed. This retroactive change is the first of many only he seems to notice. Several years later, Nigel is visited by two people from his future. But the enigmatic young guide shares very little, and the haggard, incoherent, elderly version of himself is even less reliable. His search for answers takes him fifty-two years forward in time, where he meets Helen. But Nigel's relationships always unhappen, and if they get close it could be fatal for her. Worse, according to the young guide, just by entering Helen's life, Nigel has already set into motion events that will have catastrophic consequences. In his efforts to reverse this, and to find a way to remain with Helen, he discovers the disturbing truth about the unhappenings, and the role he and his future self have played all along. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: First off...DISCLAIMER: I received this novel from Curiosity Quills in exchange for an honest review. To be more precise, I specifically requested a review copy. That didn't affect my opinion and rating in any way. Here goes...

WE HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

I'm a sucker for time travel, but to be honest, I wasn't aware of that until a few years ago. So it's not like I'm claiming to be the maximum expert on the matter or something. I haven't read/seen so huge an amount of time travel stories that I can vouch for the novelty of a particular concept. What I can say is, the story of a man whose life constantly seems to rewrite itself with no reason sounded too fresh and compelling not to give it a chance. I do have a few issues with how the thing is played (I'll address them later), because I feel like there are questions that didn't get a solid answer, or no answer at all - but the book as a whole was an entertaining ride, and didn't even lose its appeal when I reread it in search of missed clues.
As far as time travel goes, Unhappenings touches/explores a few already known theories (like the causal loop one) but also brings fresh concepts on the table, and heavily relies on the idea that, once a human being has been born, her/his life can't be negated simply murdering her/his parents before that person's birth; then again, there will be consequences - and interesting ones, too. And I promise, my review is not going to get any more spoilery than that ;). Also, if sci-fi and time travel intimidate you, I think you can still read this book without banging your head against a brick wall, because the story in itself is still compelling even if you don't get all the theories and their ramifications. This is not a book geared to science nerds - they will enjoy it, sure, but if you aren't privy to time travel scientific speculations, you can still read Unhappenings for its entertainment value :). [...]

VANISHING LIFE

Nigel is a man with no certainties. Anything and anyone could be snatched from him at any given moment, and like under a more perverted form of Murphy's law, they usually are - though, for a long while, never in real time. He simply wakes up and finds things - from small to devastatingly huge - changed. Also, he always ends up being the only one around who is aware of the changes, which of course causes havoc in his social life. Nigel's plights make for a fascinating read, and though he realises very early that they have to do with time travel (his study field and personal obsession), and a character from the future soon becomes his (rather mysterious) ally, many chapters pass before him - along with us - is told the reason behind the unhappenings. This is the most compelling part of the story for me, though I would have liked to see more of the impact that the unhappenings have on Nigel's state of mind. We are told that he becomes increasingly more reserved and detached every time his life unhappens, but we never actually get to feel the pain he's in.

HAVEN'T MET YOU YET

It's really difficult to say more about this book without royally spoiling it, but I'll try. First off, Unhappenings is a love story as much as a sci-fi one. Not your usual romantic scene, though - which sits well with me :). Plus, it's a peculiar love story (sorry, I can't be more specific). There are also future selves, a powerful yet fragile ally (sometimes I wondered how she was able to clean up the mess so efficiently...the ending seems to hint at a possible reason, but still, it was a bit convenient sometimes) and a equally powerful, if shallow, enemy. Every character seems to be defined by their motive, and I would have liked for them to be more complex and nuanced. But the story sure made up for it. Time travel is probably the trickiest of genres, because it's so easy to lose sight of where the narrative goes and of the implications of changing things in the past - not to mention characters' interactions (especially if there are multiple versions of them scattered through the story). But as far as I could see, Aubry pulled it off :).

DAZED AND CONFUSED

A few plot points let me puzzled, to be honest. Mainly, I'm not sure why it was necessary for some aspects of Nigel's life to unhappen. It seems that at least one of them could maybe have solved his antagonist's problem from the start...unless the outcome was bound to be the same in the end, and whichever turn his original life took, Nigel was destined to retroactively wreck that person's life with his choices.
The real identity of Nigel's ally wasn't hard to fathom. Also, her evolution was too sudden and radical for my tastes - despite the clues the author planted, I think her final outburst wasn't sufficiently prepared or justified. (Please note that I'm using the terms "evolution" and "outburst" in a very loose manner, because any other word would probably led to a giant spoiler). And I didn't quite understand her parting with Nigel, and the reason why he never questioned it from the very moment it was mentioned in the story, that is, before it even happened for his near-future self...

NO HEROES

Unhappenings is a modern Greek tragedy (some of the names even underline that). It's a story of obsessions and bad choices. Of selfish characters and anti-heroes. Like I said, those characters are mostly defined by their motive or goal, and they seem to undergo "changes" more than genuine development. On the other hand, with a story like this, it's difficult to efficiently develop a character, since most of them are scattered through time in different versions at different ages. What I found funny/creepy is that Old Nigel (the one from the future) and Present-Time Nigel (the one who tells the story) lie straight to each other's face - not a spoiler, the book actually states so - which sure puts an interesting twist on the self-deception concept ;D.
Finally, one could say the narrative is more telling than showing, but - again - I suppose the nature of the book, with all the different timelines/character versions, leads to that. I'm curious about what the sequel has in store for us, and I wonder if Aubry is going to spin the tale in a different way. On a side note, Unhappenings was a standalone book originally, but a comment from one of the author's beta readers gave him an idea for a new story, that he describes like "more of a spin-off than a sequel". I'm very much looking forward to it :).

Psst...did you notice I only used song titles as headings this time? :)

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8 comments:

  1. It sounds like the author did a really good job with a very complicated concept.

    I'm glad you don't need to be a science nerd to get it because I'm not lol

    Karen @For What It's Worth

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    1. Well, let me tell you a secret...I'm neither LOL. Though I do like to read about certain subjects occasionally, and TRY to grasp some concepts. But at the end of the day, I do think a book like this can be enjoyed whether you have a degree in physics or not ;).

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  2. Love the headings, and they're song titles to boot! Ah-mazing. And this book sounds pretty interesting. I love a good time travel story so I'll have to check it out at some point.

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    1. Thank you, N°1 fan of my headings (well..."only fan" maybe? LOL) ;). And I do think you might find this book interesting.

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  3. I enjoy pretty much anything that deals with time travel, but I am usually picky about the time travel books that I read. Time travel is one of the harder topics to transcribe into a novel, but it can be done. Unhappenings sounds like my kind of time travel novel though! It doesn't sound confusing or overbearing (which is great since I am definitely not a science person).
    By the way, I love how you are using headers in your reviews now. Don't get me wrong, I have always loved your long reviews, but I think that the headers break up the review nicely. I also like that they are all song titles this time!

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    1. Unhappenings does have a lot going for it if you are a science nerd, but the great thing about it is that, like I said, at its core it's the story of the lenghts you're willing to go in order to pursue an obsession, and the different person you might become if you chose a different path. Not to mention, the impact your decisions might have on the world around you (well, it's a little bit more extreme in this case - we're talking about the WHOLE world! - but still).

      And thank you! I started doing the heading thing precisely because I wanted to make my long reviews a little less intimidating ;). I'm glad the new style is appreciated.

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  4. I love this cover so much! The concept is interesting, but I usually stick to the fantasy side of science fiction/fantasy. ;)

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    Replies
    1. Curiosity Quills Press does have great covers!

      Who knows, maybe one day you'll want to read something out of your time-travel confort zone... ;)

      Delete

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