Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Andrew Cunningham is the sort of author who enjoys leaving his own comfort zone, and with Yestertime he dives into the untold potential of the time travel genre. It follows the story of Ray Burton, a journalist who, by pure accident, discovers a box from a hundred years ago carrying a seemingly impossible message, prompting him to embark on an investigation bound to change his life forever.
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Andrew Cunningham Unearths the Time Traveller’s Capsule
Contrary to what many hoped, scientific progress has brought us no closer to time travel in the past few decades, having instead hammered a few more nails in the coffin of this ambition (thank Heavens for that). Nevertheless, I doubt it will ever stop us from exploring the concept from all possible angles time and time again, and with his recent novel Yestertime, Andrew Cunningham added his name to the list of authors contributing to keeping the fantasy alive.
The premise for the story is a rather simple one, beginning by introducing us to Ray Burton, a journalist living in the United States of today. He has to visit a dying friend in Flagstaff, Arizona, and soon after is tasked with scattering his ashes deep in the desert. Not being one to turn down final requests, Ray undertakes the inhospitable trip to Hollow Rock, a nearby ghost town.
There isn’t much left of it to be called a town, mostly displaying rotten wood and building foundations, and when a sudden storm moves in, Ray is forced to seek refuge in a nearby cave. In it, he finds an old trunk from a bygone era filled with clothes, as well as a copy of the Hollow Rock Gazette, dated all the way back to September 7th, 1870.
However, what’s much more interesting is the fact the trunk contains a digital camera, two memory cards, and the driver’s license of one Stan Hooper, born in Boston in 1970. There is also a note to go along with everything, one advising the reader to put the things back in the box if they don’t understand what they are. Perhaps more intriguing is the claim by the note’s author that he will die a hundred years before he is born.
Naturally, Ray understands just how much this sort of story needs to be researched and investigated from start to finish and embarks on a strange and unexpected adventure in the realm of time travellers. There is an entire world of revelations waiting for him, and along the path to the answers he seeks Ray encounters a number of people, all affected in their own ways by their continued trips opposing the arrow of time.
The Psychological Ramifications in Yestertime
Because it’s still a concept well within the realm of science-fiction, writers of time travel stories are more or less free in how they choose to approach the subject. Authors can elect to come up with imaginary scientific theories and whatnot in an attempt to explore the mechanics of the concept, or as is the case in Yestertime, they can also choose to stray away from the science in favour of exploring other aspects.
In this case, Andrew Cunningham prefers to examine the characters first and foremost, trying to imagine the kind of toll time travel takes on their psyches. We get acquainted with quite a few people partaking in the activity for their own reasons, and they all serve as interesting expositions on the potential dangers of it, both physical and psychological.
Thankfully, we’re not treated to their cases one by one as if we were reading some sort of medical study. On the contrary, Cunningham weaves his character studies in with the rest of the story, making them pertinent to the plot, for the most part at least.
Because we are allowed to be come well-acquainted with these people, the effects they are suffering through make them more than just test subjects for our sake. The author put in a lot of effort to make us truly feel and understand what his characters are going through, to bring us as close as possible to them, and ultimately to make their fates matter to us. While I naturally didn’t end up caring for every single character, I found the majority of them were indeed relatable to some extent and worthy of the reader’s affection.
I quite enjoyed the way in which Cunningham depicted the onset of the various ramifications of continued time travel on his characters, making them slowly creep into the light, nearly undetectable until it’s too late. In my opinion, he never strayed too far from what’s realistic (or I suppose, believable considering the sci-fi context), and should we ever have the misfortune of accomplishing backwards time travel, I could certainly see people having to contend with similar problems.
A Story of Connections
Yestertime is, in my opinion, a character study first and foremost, but it doesn’t stray too far behind its faster-paced peers when it comes to the plot itself. It doesn’t take long for the ball start rolling, and Andrew Cunningham really does come up with a good hook at the start, even if it didn’t pay off as well as I had hoped.
There are a few action-packed moments as well as a decent amount of turbulence for Ray to deal with throughout the story, especially when he goes back to some of the more dangerous dates in the past couple of centuries. Though the action isn’t dominant, there is a constant sense of forward progression, making the story feel like it’s moving along rather quickly, especially considering the number of people we get acquainted with.
Ray’s journey takes him through the turbulent lives of numerous people living in different eras, and I think the descriptions of the past are where Andrew Cunningham really shines in Yestertime. He is obviously quite knowledgeable when it comes to history, and the many little details he includes in his depictions of events taking place decades and decades ago really lend them a tangible air of authenticity.
As Ray travels back and forth through time, he also undergoes a journey conducive to personal transformation, and it felt to me like the author wanted to answer the question as to what people need to live, regardless of the era they’re born in (setting aside the obvious things needed to fulfill survival needs). Needless to say, we’re all going to have our own answers to this question, but Cunningham‘s is certainly worth considering: the need to have a profound connection with at least one living person.
The importance of connections between people comes up time and time again, a point illustrated in as many ways as the author could imagine. Even if there are a few moments where the author’s message feels a little too on one the nose, on the whole I found the idea interesting, especially when explored in a time travel context, where the connections can defy the logical boundaries of physics and be put through great tests.
|305||Independently published||Nov. 8 2020||979-8554997372|
The Final Verdict
Yestertime by Andrew Cunningham is a remarkable time travel novel which places a much greater emphasis on the personal, psychological and physical consequences of the practice, rather than the scientific side. A character study which still manages to keep things exciting and moving at a brisk pace, it’s a nice breath of fresh air in a genre becoming a little saturated with hard science-fiction.
If you’re a fan of time travel stories and are looking for a novel exploring the human side of the equation, then I think you’re going to tremendously enjoy all this novel has to offer.
Andrew Cunninghum is an English-born author living in the United States who has been working in the industry for over eighteen years now. He has authored numerous bestselling novels, including the award-winning Wisdom Spring, the Lies Mystery Series (including All Lies, Fatal Lies and Vegas Lies) as well as the Eden Rising Series (Eden Rising, Eden Lost, Eden’s Legacy and Eden’s Survival).