Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Elan Mastai has taken a bit of time before moving from screenplays to novels, taking the leap in 2017 with the publication of the novel All Our Wrong Todays, the film rights for which have already been optioned by Paramount Pictures. It follows the story of Tom, living in a utopic universe alternate to ours, and his accidental journey to the year 2016 of our own reality, which he comes to interpret as a dystopian wasteland.
Table of contents
Elan Mastai Puts our Reality into Perspective
Sometime in the 1940s and 50s humanity experienced an unprecedented technological boom which took nearly the entire world by storm, leading to the digital age of today. Back then, people had quite an ambitious vision for the future, including flying cars and free energy for all. While something tells me we won’t see it any time soon, it’s the only world Tom Barren knows in All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai.
Tom is living in quite literally the idealized vision of tomorrow so prevalent in the world of yesterday. Humanity has all sorts of moon bases, cars are indeed flying around without crashing into anything, the sidewalks move on their own, and most importantly, punk rock never even had a chance to see the light of day.
Despite the perfection of the world he lives in, Tom simply can’t seem to find his place in it, the little nook in the world he could fit into. It’s ideal for virtually everyone except him, but soon an accident of fate offers him a chance to begin his life anew under rather different circumstances.
Victim of a time-travelling mishap stemming from some rash decision-making, Tom finds himself thrown into an alternate reality: our very own 2016, the one we see as the real world. For Tom, who comes from the land where vegetables never spoil, the shock of our reality is tremendous, appearing to him like a dystopian wasteland rife with injustice, inequality, suffering and infinite hardships.
Quite soon though, he finds the alternate version of his own family in this new world, and along the way experiences some unexpected joys he couldn’t have even dreamt of. He then becomes faced with a true dilemma: to bring back the predictable utopia he couldn’t fit in, or try and build a new life for himself in the chaotic yet fascinating universe he has landed in. The search for the answer takes him across multiple continents and timelines, giving many lessons along the way.
An Outsider’s View in All Our Wrong Todays
Whenever we’re struggling to find an answer to some sort of personal conundrum, we have a tendency to ask our family and/or friends for their advice for two main reasons. First, they might possess experience relevant to the situation at hand. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they have an outsider’s perspective on the issue.
When we try to examine human society as a whole, we run into the very obvious problem of having to outside observers to confer with. Therefore, our perspective of ourselves is inherently limited by its own nature. Nevertheless, I think it’s important to continuously conduct thought experiments in this domain(at least until we meet benevolent aliens), and it was the first element of All Our Wrong Todays which captured my attention.
There’s no such thing as the life you’re supposed to have.― Elan Mastai, All Our Wrong Todays
Whereas we’re used to seeing our world through the scope of our own past, Tom is looking at it from the other side of the hill, so to speak. Its shortcomings are jumping out at him from left, right and centre, and his confusion at the illogical elements of our society are not only pleasant to read, but also thought-provoking on a number of occasions.
At the same time, his journey in our dystopian world of 2016 isn’t narrowed to a critique of everything an outside observer from a utopia would despise. The uncertainty and unpredictability of our reality are often painted in a more positive light, and Tom often rejoices at many elements of life which he has never experienced but we’ve come to take for granted.
Additionally, from a storytelling perspective, it’s intriguing to see how an ill-equipped time-traveller would go about learning and navigating a world extremely familiar to us. It gives rise to more than a few comedic situations, and while I wouldn’t say it’s approached with philosophical or scientific rigour, Elan Mastai always remains consistent with the internal logic of his own universe.
A Global Time-Trotting Adventure
For all the insight it provides into modern society, All Our Wrong Todays is a far cry from being a static or slow-moving story. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say it almost reads like a thriller in terms of structure, with short and eventful chapters often ending on mini-cliffhangers which simply beg you to keep on reading further.
I think the author’s roots as a screenplay writer have definitely influenced his writing style, not to mention the fact the novel is in the process of being made into a television show by the same name. In other words, I believe it was written already with the idea of transplanting it onto the visual medium, meaning plot progression is always at the forefront of the author’s mind.
The problem with knowing people too well is that their words stop meaning anything and their silences start meaning everything.― Elan Mastai, All Our Wrong Todays
This isn’t to say there are no descriptive passages, but they certainly don’t dominate the bulk of the book’s content. A couple of them might be superfluous, but on the whole I’d say they tend to be evocative and clear enough to the point where you can easily imagine them.
Tom’s entire adventure, from to start to finish, is quite expansive and essentially takes him across the world, as well as different timelines, all in search for the answer to his personal dilemma. His journey is certainly exciting and interesting in its own right, but the end goal of it helps to keep its intellectual core alive at all times. Whatever he’s doing or observing, Tom is always trying to edge us a little closer to a deeper understanding of whichever topic he’s currently exploring.
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Speaking of Tom himself, I found it refreshing enough to have the kind of character who is not only legitimately average in many regards, but also defined by a number of flaws, such as his whiny attitude, for instance. He truly isn’t a hero and has tremendous room for personal growth, something we see him slowly fulfill as he learns more and more about life in the hellish landscape of 2016. Good thing he didn’t end up in 2020.
The Final Verdict
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai is both an exciting and thoughtful time travel book, one taking us on a long and varied journey while offering us an outside perspective of our own society while the main character tries to answer some profound questions for himself.
If you’re looking for the kind of science-fiction book which pushes you to think, forces you to feel and entertains you all at the same time, then I have no doubt in saying you found it.
Elan Mastai is a Canadian screenwriter and author who has performed some notable works in both the fields of literature and cinema. He is best-known for his work on the 2013 film The F Word earned the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. In 2017 he also came out with his debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays, the film rights for which have been optioned by Paramount Pictures.