Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Book Impressions: Unhappenings

Posted by Rampant Coyote on August 10, 2016

UnhappeningsI recently read Unhappenings, by Edward Aubrey. I wonder if this novel came about from a writing prompt that went something like, “It really sucks to be a time traveler.”

The main character, Nigel, suffers from what he refers to as “unhappenings.” Nothing in his life has permanence… things change, and nobody else remembers how things used to be.  Friends that he’s known for years don’t remember him. After his first kiss, his girlfriend disappears and seems to have never existed. School is challenging when teachers and things he was supposed to have done change overnight.

The reason, he soon discovers, is that at some point in the future he will be a time traveler, and the unhappenings are the result of changes in the past. But while others change with history and it is all they’ve ever known, time travelers – even those who have yet to begin traveling in their own time-frame – are at least partially ignored by these changes to past events. This sidesteps the “Grandfather Paradox” – if a time traveler were to kill his own grandfather before he ever had children, the time traveler would still exist … but there’d be no history of his ever having existed in his own time.

But it does make it hell for a time traveler when reality keeps changing around him. But before long, he becomes the one causing some of those changes, accompanied by a mysterious girl of often-changing age who helps him adapt and “fix” some terrible things that are being done in time… often taking him into his own personal past. But the bulk of his “present” may actually lay more than fifty years into the future… where he is asked to travel at the request of his older self.

Sound twisted? It is. The premise is what attracted me. The story stays true to the premise, which leads to some strange storytelling. The potential impermanence of every relationship and event leads to a somewhat distanced narrative when presented in the first-person by the protagonist. He withdraws from most relationships, as experience has proven that close relationships often prove retroactively fatal to the other person.

This also leads to the time-traveling adventures being… not so adventuresome. Saving the world is just part of the job. But the bigger issues are the impact on Nigel’s few permanent(ish) relationships – the only things that really have meaning in a world where anything else can fundamentally change overnight. And then there’s the toll on the soul, which is explored in more detail. The whole “kill Hitler as a baby” thing is a moral issue that comes up several times, complicated by taking the longer view of history, after entire generations have passed.

The story maintained my interest mainly from the mysteries around several relationships across time. Nobody has the full picture at any one point, and even the aged, future version of Nigel is more mystified by what’s going on than anyone else. The ending was a bit unsatisfying and didn’t ring entirely true with me, but maybe that’s just me. From an intellectual standpoint, I really enjoyed the twisted puzzle of the time-travel, and that was what kept me reading.

Filed Under: Books, Impressions - Comments: Read the First Comment

  • Modran said,

    Duly noted. Sounds interesting !