Book Review

Recursion by Blake Crouch

very fun, very trashy, contemporary time travel novel

September 5th, 2022, Tottenham, London

When my birthday and Christmas come around every year, my lover and I have a deal whereby I will be gifted a novel about time travel.

I’m not quite certain when this deal was formalised and why it matters, but it definitely does and has become a foundational tenet of our relationship.

Last Christmas, my partner gave me the frankly incredible comic book Paper Girls (there’s a pretty good (I’ve seen two episodes) TV adaptation of this currently available on Amazon Prime), but for my previous birthday she gave me the frankly terrible novel – one of the worst I’ve ever read in my lifeOona Out of Order. So, tensions were running high in the Cubby the dog household on my birthday last Friday when my partner – before going to work – handed me a wrapped paperback book which would be mine and my dog’s companion over the course of the day, until my lover returned from paid employment many hours later. 

I opened the wrapping paper – patterned with caricature-like cartoon dogs, the exact kind of imagery that suits the celebration of life that a person’s birthday may be considered to be – and inside I found a novel called Recursion.

The cover design features a repeating image of what seems to be a window, and there is no explicit mention of time travel in the blurb on the back of the book.

There was also one suspiciously worrying feature, though – the forename of the author is Blake. The only other Blake I have encountered in my life is the country singer Blake Shelton, so this immediately got me terrified that this was going to be a [American] Republican novel.

I’ve read some right-wing American texts before, most recently the terrible and even-more-sexually-repressed-than-I-am vampire novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, and was in no hurry to do so again. Sure, there are plenty of right-wing authors, and, sure, fine, I’ll begrudgingly acknowledge that there are many good and several great right-wing novels, but in the realm of speculative fiction specifically and non-realist genre-fiction more generally, I haven’t read or heard of a right wing novel that wasn’t anything short of appalling.

When you are depicting an exaggerated reality, it’s not hard to improve upon – or at least indicate an understanding of – the ways in which the current organisation of society is deeply deeply flawed. Right wing novels don’t do that. Right wing (i.e. regressive) media is most commonly found in the popular cinema: superhero movies that receive funding from the CIA, blockbusters about honest soldiers, honourable police, aeroplane fighters like Top Gun made with cooperation and equipment lease from the US military. These are bad and dangerous, because these right wing populist projects normalise the idea that the status quo not only is worth protecting, but it’s worth making offensive directives in order to pretend to defend it. Does that make sense? Uncertain?

Recursion might be a centrist novel, but it isn’t explicitly right-wing. Then again, when the time travel technology that is invented in the book falls into governmental hands, the scientist who invented time travel seems much much more worried than when time travel was previously in the private corporate hands of her tech-Billionaire funder. So maybe it is a right wing novel?

Anyway, Recursion doesn’t necessarily argue that the current economic social militaristic society we live in is good, and it certainly doesn’t advocate for increased power over time and space being available to private individuals and/or governmental organisations (of any state), so it’s not advocating for a more extreme version of the stratified capitalistic society we live in. Don’t make things worse, but also don’t do anything to actively make the world better – that’s America’s Democrats to a tee, right?

There is no “good” billionaire in this novel, just as there is no “good” government, just as there is no “good” anarchist group mentioned during the brief part in one of the many timelines of the novel when it gets brilliantly messy – in a coherent and neatly constructed way – towards its end as multiple parties begin time travelling and changing the fabric of reality .

It’s about 400 pages long and I read it in less than 2 days which, for me, is a very good sign for a genre text. My lover then read it immediately after me in about 36 hours, because it’s a super exciting, super pacey, novel. There’s sufficient characterisation for it all to hang together. The made-up science is a bit unnecessarily explained, but there’s sufficient engagement with philosophical ideas about the meaning of time and memory and so on that it doesn’t ever feel like the writer kind of believes the non-realistic concepts that happen in the text.

I really enjoyed this: it’s a trashy sci-fi time travel novel with competing timelines and interests and people dying and people being saved and lives being re-written and the repercussions of all of this on a micro-macro-international scale is engagingly evoked.

Blake Crouch’s Recursion would be an excellent beach read, a great plane novel. It’s a great wandering around the canals of London with my dog eating pizza novel. A having a couple of cocktails novel. A perfect read for me for a lazy birthday afternoon.

If you’re looking for a sci-fi time travel novel that’s good and contemporary, then this is definitely worth a go.

Thank you thank you to my lover for fulfilling the agreed terms of our relationship at this gift-giving time.

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