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Version Control

Version Control

5.0 1
by Dexter Palmer

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Although Rebecca Wright has pieced her life back together after a major tragedy, she can’t shake a sense that the world around her feels off-kilter. Meanwhile, her husband’s dedication to his invention, “the causality violation device” (which he would greatly prefer you not call a time machine) has effectively stalled his career&mdash


Although Rebecca Wright has pieced her life back together after a major tragedy, she can’t shake a sense that the world around her feels off-kilter. Meanwhile, her husband’s dedication to his invention, “the causality violation device” (which he would greatly prefer you not call a time machine) has effectively stalled his career—but he may be closer to success than either of them can possibly imagine. Emotionally powerful and wickedly intelligent, Version Control is a stunningly prescient novel about the effects of science and technology on our lives, our friendships, and our sense of self that will alter the way you see the future—and the present.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
An NPR, San Francisco Chronicle, GQ, Vox, and Buzzfeed Best Book of the Year
One of The Washington Post’s best science fiction and fantasy books of the year

“Exhilarating. . . . A thoughtful, powerful overhaul of the age-old time travel tale.” —NPR

“With time travel as a fascinating backdrop, Palmer delicately examines the layers of stories we create when trying to differentiate ‘the information from the truth.’” —The Washington Post

"One of 2016’s best science fiction novels. . . . Version Control should be on the reading list of every fan of smart sci-fi." —GQ

“Engrossing and strange. . . . A knowing, frequently funny and often very sad novel that explores love, marriage and loss in the age of social media.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Brilliant and richly satisfying: a novel that is utterly true to the complicated and science fictional world we live in today.” —Buzzfeed

Publishers Weekly
★ 12/14/2015
Palmer’s lengthy, complex, highly challenging second novel is more brilliant than his debut, The Dream of Perpetual Motion. Philip Steiner is working to develop a causality-violation device—a machine that will make it possible to visit and interact with the past. Meanwhile, Philip’s wife, Rebecca Wright, an employee at an online dating company, must cope with past tragedy. Far more than a standard-model time travel saga, this science thriller deals with love, politics, history, loss, tragedy, bonding, craft beers, jogging, Internet dating, alcoholism, temptation, sin, redemption, rock ’n’ roll, jazz, Rudolph Fisher, and gourmet cooking. It takes place in the very near future, or perhaps in a slightly variant universe where reality can vary from one moment to the next. Is that really Ronald Reagan’s face on a $20 bill, or the face of another president (definitely not Andrew Jackson)? Humorous set pieces include an utterly hilarious cocktail party set in a luxurious high-rise condo overlooking New York’s Central Park. Palmer earned his doctorate from Princeton with a thesis on the works of James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis. This book stands with the masterpieces of those authors. Agent: Susan Golomb, Writers House. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Rebecca struggles—with grief, with her work-obsessed physicist husband, with alcoholism, and with the subtle, unshakable sense that the world she lives in is wrong. If past decisions and a single violent tragedy are the history that make Rebecca and Philip who they are, what if something were to happen to that past? VERDICT Complicated, human characters, fascinating ideas, and witty, socially conscious prose make this title engaging fare for any reader and a sure bet for fans of Neal Stephenson and Connie Willis. (LJ 1/16)
School Library Journal
In the very near future, self-driving cars and the use of artificial intelligence are becoming increasingly commonplace, social media has expanded its dominating role in people's lives, and a small group of physicists are close to producing the first quantitative proof of space-time anomalies. The main characters are millennials in their early to late 30s, and the story revolves around their day-to-day lives and interactions. Palmer takes his time building a world that at first seems only slightly futuristic and even somewhat mundane in its similarities to the present day. Some teens will find the slow start difficult, but those who make it through the first half of the story will begin to recognize the all-too-real possibilities for what their own futures might hold. Quantum physics, race relations, the power of social media, amoral technology, and politics are all topics of high interest among many teens. Palmer shines a disturbing spotlight on these issues, exposing the ease with which our lives can be manipulated without our awareness. VERDICT Teens with a keen interest in physical science or social psychology will find this a particularly satisfying, albeit disturbing, read.—Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA
Kirkus Reviews
★ 2015-12-08
A Mobius strip of a novel in which time is more a loop than a path and various possibilities seem to exist simultaneously. Science fiction provides a literary launching pad for this audacious sophomore novel by Palmer (The Dream of Perpetual Motion, 2010). It offers some of the same pleasures as one of those state-of-the-union (domestic and national) epics by Jonathan Franzen, yet its speculative nature becomes increasingly apparent as the novel progresses (while its characters apparently don't). From the first page, protagonist Rebecca Wright, who works at a computer dating service, feels a "weird, persistent unease"; she thinks the world around her suffers from "a certain subtle wrongness." Her physicist husband, Philip Steiner, heads a team that's working on what others would call a time machine, though the scientists avoid that label; they don't think their project will create a true time machine, but their research (and even their mistakes) might provide useful discoveries along the way. Rebecca and Philip's son, Sean, who's in second grade, has been an artistic prodigy since preschool, according to his mother, but his father doesn't understand him at all. As Palmer's narrative offers sleight-of-hand revelations with absolute command, it becomes apparent that the time they are living in, which often seems to be a comment on the present, is in fact the near future, one in which automobiles drive themselves and the president is capable of appearing on anyone's home TV to address them personally. It's also increasingly obvious that Rebecca is an alcoholic, in deep denial. The plot pivots on a climactic car crash, a malfunction of the automatic automobile, after Sean has been unfairly disciplined with a detention at school, Rebecca is too inebriated to leave the house, and Philip is too busy at work to intercede, leaving the question of who is behind the wheel and who survives subject to revision. The novel circles back to this pivotal incident time and again; as this plot writes and then overwrites itself, each member of the nuclear family might possibly die, yet all remain crucial to the denouement. Muses Philip, "Ulysses is not a story, so much as a system of the world. A place for everything, and everything in its place." A novel brimming with ideas, ambition, imagination, and possibility yet one in which the characters remain richly engaging for the reader.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

As the second segment began, Rebecca reflected that Philip wasn’t coming off quite as coldly as she’d feared he might. It helped that in addition to getting him to sit for an interview, the crew had shot a good deal of additional B-roll footage of him working in the lab, and though it was clearly staged, it served to humanize him. (“They asked me,” he said in high dudgeon after coming home from the lab one evening, “to sit at a desk, a clean desk with nothing on it, and write. On paper. With a pencil. They said: Don’t look at the camera. Just make up some equations or something. Throw some Greek letters in them, and maybe we can get a shot of the paper, too. It was laughable, Rebecca. It was fatuous.” But fatuous or not, here was Philip sitting at his desk, dutifully scribbling away, looking like a dinner-theater actor playing the part of a scientist.)
“Here at Stratton University in New Jersey,” the announcer cooed, “Philip Steiner and his small but devoted team are hard at work on an idea that has captivated the imagination of humanity since the novelist H. G. Wells first conceived of it in 1895.”
“Oh, no,” said Alicia. “Oh no.”
“Philip calls it a causality violation device,” the announcer said.
Sitting next to Rebecca, Philip bristled. “I call it that because that’s what it is!” Rebecca reached over and patted his hand.
The screen showed Philip in the lab, speaking past the camera to someone out of the field of view as Carson fiddled with machinery in the background. “There’s Carson,” said Dennis. He had finished the entire bowl of tortilla chips and wiped the bowl of salsa clean.
“I must have removed and reattached that robotic arm a dozen times in front of those guys,” Carson said. “That’s not even from our lab. We got it from another building.”
Onscreen, Philip was wearing a lab coat. He never wore a lab coat. It looked fresh from its packaging. He was cradling a robot in both arms, an eight-legged contraption of steel and plastic with a digital clock strapped to its back. “This is Arachne,” he said. “Our little causality violation detector. For all the work that’s going into this experiment, the central concept is actually pretty simple.”
“You’re doing good here,” said Rebecca. Despite Philip’s protestations before the party that he was generally unconcerned, he was clearly worried—he’d gone pale and tight-lipped.
“So,” the onscreen Philip continued, “Arachne’s clock is synced by radio to the atomic clock in Boulder, Colorado, one of the most accurate timekeeping devices in the world. Here’s the idea: We send Arachne into the causality violation chamber, retrieve her a few moments later, and see if the clock she’s carrying is still synced to the clock in Boulder. If Arachne’s clock is running faster—and if all works perfectly, we’d expect her clock to be about an hour faster— then that’ll mean that she’s existed for a longer period of time relative to the scientists who are observing her. Which would mean, in turn, that we had successfully created a causality violation.”
“In short—” the announcer said.
“Oh no,” said Alicia. “—if Philip Steiner is successful, he will have built—”
“She’s actually going to say it—”
The announcer gasped. “The world’s first time machine,” she said.
“Goddamn it,” Alicia said. “I knew they’d take that corny angle.”
They saw a rapid series of clips from twentieth-century movies: an open-shirted Rod Taylor rescuing Yvette Mimieux from a rubberfaced Morlock; the USS Nimitz appearing in Pearl Harbor a day before the fateful attack; Michael J. Fox stepping out of the gull wing door of a modified DeLorean.
“This is so embarrassing,” Alicia said, while Philip quietly clenched his fist and the rest of the physicists stared at the television in despair. “And oh hey look, without even telling us, they went out and got an interview with Anne Lippincott for this dog-and-pony show. Ridiculous.”
Anne Lippincott, according to the banner displayed at the bottom of the screen, was a representative of the Committee for Ethical Restraint in Science. “Well, of course it’s unethical,” she said, gesturing wildly with one long-fingered hand while she brushed a flaxen lock of hair back behind her ear with the other. “If these positively amoral people are going to go and honest-to-goodness rip a hole in the spacetime continuum, then that’s something that affects everyone—we all have to live on this planet together, and it’s something they shouldn’t even think about doing without first consulting the American people, so we can put it to a vote. You got all sorts of stuff going on now that’s unethical, that’s amoral—you got that business with the stem cells, you got people eating steaks that didn’t even come off a cow—and now we’ve got these absolutely reckless people who just can’t imagine that there is even one piece of knowledge that God just might have chosen to place off-limits for a reason, that maybe God made space and time the way they are for a reason—”
“Turn this off,” Philip growled. “I don’t want to see any more.”
Rebecca quietly pressed a button on her phone. The television burped a little ditty and went black, shutting off Lippincott’s rant in mid-sentence.
“That’s it,” Alicia said to the rest of the silent group. “We’re screwed.”

Meet the Author

Dexter Palmer’s first novel, The Dream of Perpetual Motion, was selected as one of the best fiction debuts of 2010 by Kirkus Reviews. Palmer lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Version Control: A Novel 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved the concept and author pulled it off well. Definitely a well thought out and executed story. Would strongly recommend to anyone who loves time travel stories. My only complaint would be the dream and vision ideas --I didn't get it.