Syncing Forward (W. Lawrence) is one of the novels which I’m sure will stay with me for a long time. It touches me most as a protective father of 2 young daughters but also as someone who’s nervous of all things medical. And naturally, as a time travel fan!
What makes this time travel novel stand out from many others is that it addresses the human aspect of time travel – the emotional effects which are enhanced when the time travel is done so unwillingly.
Syncing Forward won Gold in the Feathered Quill Awards and is a finalist in the Book Pipeline contest. Now that’s not bad, is it?!
The main character (Martin) is injected with a drug which slows his metabolic rate to such an extent that a few moments for him are several days for everyone else. During his ‘syncing forward’ phases time marches on, carrying his family and world with it. Whilst his family grows up around him, society also moves on; there is political and technological development and the world he once knew passes.
For limited periods he is occasionally able to temporarily ‘sync back’ into normal time and is able to live and experience normal every day events. But it’s not time which is slipping away, it’s the people he loves.
Slowed / suspended animation – is this time travel?
I’ll address the obvious question first – is Martin a time traveller? (And is this is “time travel” novel?)
Actually this question is answered in the novel. Society thinks Yes; but Martin has reservations about the ‘label’ but doesn’t particularly care – he just wants his life back.
On a bottom line basis though, I’d call Martin a time traveller; time passes for him at a different rate than it does for everyone else. In a way it’s a form of time dilation achieved without speeds approaching the speed of light or differing gravitational potential.
In Martin’s perception, his children grow up into adulthood in a matter of (his) days. They have children – who grow up into adults and have children. And so on. Cultural norms and politics change. Even geography. Technology advances. The effect of travelling into the future is the same for Martin as it would be for the ‘traditional’ time traveller.
But I think there is a key difference – interaction during transit. He watches time pass quickly around him, but unlike transport in the traditional time machine, he is able to interact or be interacted with…albeit on a level much much reduced than what he’d like.
For example, he can move his arm in what he appears to be normal speed. But actually in ‘real’ time it takes several weeks. And since his arm is raised for several weeks, his arm gets tired. He takes days to blink so his eyes dry and need to be irrigated. His youngest daughter sat still with him for days so that Martin could experience a few seconds of his hand being held. Messages can be written and read between Martin and ‘real timers’.
In other words, there is a direct connection between him and his surroundings.
Everything about him appears to be slow to the ‘normal’world. He moves in extreme slow motion. His body doesn’t age. He thinks in slow ‘motion’ (which gives the question: can naturally slow thinkers be considered to be time travellers if it takes them an extra 30 minutes to catch up with the rest of us?)
In the light of the interaction between Martin and the normal world, and especially given the levels of agony of his emotional strain, I’d consider Syncing Forward to be a novel which examines the human side of time travel.
My take on the story line
The blurb on the back cover asks: “Would you ever travel forward in time if you knew it would be a one-way trip?”
In hindsight (perhaps hindsight is the closest form of time travel in the real world!) I think this is a little misleading as Martin certainly didn’t make the choice. It was imposed on him, and whereas some may choose it and be happy, Martin was forcefully thrust into a future without a shared history with the people he loved and who loved him.
He had something to live for in the present and that’s what makes his experience so horrific. So for me the main story line is how Martin deals with going on without growing up with his children and family.
But there is also a subplot or at least a background of both terrorism and technological advances against which Martin’s terror is set. This aspect, at the start of the novel, didn’t really speak to me. At the time I was more interested in Martin and what he was feeling; my empathy with him was strong, and the descriptions of technological advances at those early stages of the novel seemed in comparison rather dry. I guess in some ways this might be how Martin was feeling although of course it affected him much more than me; I can close the pages of his dreaded nightmare.
The reading experience
I wrote in this post about how reading Syncing Forward freaked me out. Reading further than page 156 didn’t really ‘help’!
You think children grow up fast. But how about a toddler growing to old age in less than 2 weeks? This is the reality that Martin faces. He misses growing up and sharing the lives of his wife and daughters. Daughters who have boyfriends, get jobs, get married, have (grand)children. Have bio-modifications.
The pain of missing his children grow up is intense. It’s not the same as being away on business for a week and missing a birthday…it’s living a few hours and missing 18 birthdays. It’s puking up over your son-in-law’s shoes, blinking your eyes and seeing him again a decade later. It’s looking into the eyes of your daughter and realising that she’s older than you are.
Martin deals with a lot of crap and by the time his second grandchild comes (this is the son of his daughter who was for him 3 years old ‘last week’) he’s pretty much numbed out. A few more times he finds himself in a future where technology and even geography is different. He feels dissociated, and in this way I felt I kind of grew up with Martin; my empathic ‘pain’ was maxing out and I was just wanting to know how this was going to conclude.
And this is where W. Lawrence knows his reader; the writing style changes subtly and the plot twists slightly to move away from Martin and his personal problems and more to the societal changes and the terrorist attacks opposing them. What was once for Martin (and for me) not so interesting or perhaps relevant, now becomes key. Indeed, understandably Martin changes and this helps the story switch. Well perhaps not so much a switch as the underlying plot is the same but more of a change of emphasis.
This is a huge credit to W. Lawrence who pushes the novel along by changing its tone where I think many other novels would have just ended.
I noticed a few comments on the Good Reads reviews about an unclear ending. I can see where these thoughts may have arisen, but ultimately I think the ending is clear…and beautiful.
In the pages leading up to it I must admit that I was filled with reader’s fear – that the conclusion was going to be a huge anti-climax. Indeed, there are several predictable endings…which thankfully don’t surface!
Actually, I thought I was reading an ending and I must admit to being quite disappointed…until I turned the page and found an epilogue. Phew! But then…but…but…it wasn’t the ending I wanted. It was a cop out. A cheat. A reason to have not bothered to reading the book. Hang on…aaahhh! That’s better! That’s beautiful!
SPOILER ALERT: If you’re interested, I’ve hidden the endings I thought might happen (but didn’t) as well as the actual ending. Click “show” below.
1. History and characters from Martin’s history are recreated using Conference and synthetic multiform companions.
2. Martin blasts off into space to escape everything and to pick up his missed chance (the Shenzhou mission) from earlier.
3. Thought this was the end: Martin sits and waits for Amara. The reader is left feeling as lost and impatient as Martin.
4. Thought I read in beginning of Epilogue – Martin dies and meets his Dad in Heaven.
5. Actual end: First person character is now Amara. She wakes up to her Dad (Martin) who is looking after her. How beautiful is that?!
The Christian touch
One of the things I like – and this is a subtle point (hence the section at the end of this review) – is the inclusion of God and faith. There’s nothing heavy handed; there’s no ‘Bible-thumping’ or evangelical mission, but God is just there.
Is this important or relevant? Ellie asked the same question in Carl Sagan’s Contact. (At least in the movie I watched a few weeks ago; it’s been too long since I read the book). Ellie was one of 5 candidates from which one would be chosen to effectively represent the human race on a mission to meet extra-terrestrial intelligent life. When she was asked about her belief in God she squirmed and answered that she “…didn’t understand the relevance of the question”.
“Dr. Arroway, 95% of the world’s population believes in a supreme being in one form or another. I believe that makes the question more than relevant.”
So similarly, I find the references to faith in Syncing Forward both relevant and a bonus Christian message which underlies the main plot. I think it’s there to be ‘read’ if you see it, otherwise it takes enough of a back-burner not to ‘intrude’ upon those readers without a wish to see God at work in Martin’s life.
Final words and availability
Like The Paradox War (C. J. Moseley), this novel makes me think. The Paradox War made me think about the smallness of present day humankind and the vastness of the future space and time. Syncing Forward makes me think about the importance of the here and now…and the people we share it with.
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