Title: In the Present Tense
Author: Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: May 19th, 2016
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Sci-Fi, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (paperback)
Imagine waking up one morning to find yourself 8 years in the future and in bed, not with your teenage boyfriend, but your twenty-something wife. Imagine your wife then explaining that you possess the ability to time travel and that you and your boyfriend–the love of your life–broke up soon after high school. Oh, and you’re also bisexual.
Miles Lawson has a condition that allows him to time travel, albeit in an erratic, uncontrollable fashion. Present day Miles is determined to find a permanent cure for his “ailment” and get back to living his current life, but teenage Miles is equally determined to put a wrench into his plans and reconnect with his ex-boyfriend (who is now engaged to someone else).
The characters reference Back to the Future quite a bit, but the story bears far more resemblance to “The Constant” episode of LOST, as Miles’ mind flits back and forth across time while his body remains in place. So we get POVs from 25 year-old Miles, teenage Miles inhabiting the body of 25 year-old Miles, and future Miles in the body of present Miles. While it’s a little confusing in the beginning, it won’t take long for you get settled and once you do, it’s quite the entertaining ride. There’s a reason why “The Constant” is one of my favourite episodes in LOST and this book’s take on time travel (“temporal shifts” as it calls it) scratched an itch I’ve had since I last watched the show.
I also want to give props to the author for the sheer amount of diversity found among the characters. We get everything from a bisexual biracial protagonist, a Latina wife, a gay Asian man, to a lesbian teenager with schizophrenia. It’s not every day that I come across a queer sci-fi story with a Korean romantic interest and I may hissed “YES!” when I found out (to the consternation of the other commuters on my train).
The biggest problem I had was with the characters. These characters are diagnosed with what I call the “puppet syndrome”– being made to do and say things solely for the purpose of moving the plot in one specific direction, even if it means being contorted into strange and nonsensical shapes.
Okay, but isn’t that what every story does? All characters are essentially puppets manipulated by the writer. Well yes, but the readers shouldn’t be thinking that. For the duration of the story, we should be sold on the idea that this puppet is indeed a real boy, as opposed to constantly thinking, “These characters are like Barbie dolls awkwardly knocking against each other.”
And there’s some serious Barbie knockage going on in this story:
(Some spoilers ahead. And these are not actual quotes from the book.)
Miles: Hey, mom and dad, did anything weird ever happen to me as a kid?
Parents: Well, there was that time you stayed at your uncle’s place and his time travel research colleagues took you into their lab while you were sleeping and did all sorts of experiments on you.”
Miles: …Excuse me?
Ana (Miles’s wife): I’m so devastated by the fact that my husband is in a mental facility, even though I encouraged him to sign himself in.
(less than a week later)
Ana: Oh, Miles’s boss, kiss my sorrows away!
Adam: Miles, I have a fiancé and you have a wife. We should not be kissing!
(literally 3 pages later)
Adam: I know I haven’t seen you in 8 years but I love you more than I would ever love my fiancé. We’re like, destined, you and I.
The second one is what gets me that most. Miles and Ana supposedly have had a happy marriage thus far, so I feel like the only reason for the latter to be cheating is to justify Miles and Adam getting back together.
So in the end, I never really got a good sense of any of these characters–not so much because they’re shallow, but because they swing back and forth from one action to another completely contradictory one with the speed of a weather vane in the middle of a hurricane.
All in all, I loved the time travel aspect and the themes presented, but the characters had me groaning in frustration to throwing my hands up crying, “Why are you doing this?”