The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is a captivating time travel romance with a firm footing in science. It’s unafraid to delve into the realms of time travel and its complications, provoking moral and philosophical questions if we were given the chance to live our life again.
Margaret is a 60 year old scientist living with the regret of a failed relationship. To the annoyance of her colleagues she develops a time machine as sideline research and finds a way to transport her mind back in time into the body of her 35 year old self.
From this perspective she is able to relive her past – her affair with her colleague Frank, witness of police brutality, victim of an attack and the development of her time machine.
Unfortunately Margaret finds that she can take barely more than a passive role, able at best to move only a few fingers of her younger host body. This means that she can’t pass on or share her 25 years worth of wisdom (and
hindsight foresight), and is forced to watch the same mistakes being made again.
In a wild flurry of necessity Margaret finally discovers how to move her host body and manipulates it so that a key moment in her history is changed.
She returns to an altered present where she discovers that her younger self has hitched a ride with her, and who now knows that her time machine works. The young ambitious scientist wants wants to publish the results in scientific journals of her time, but is advised against doing so by the older Margaret.
This is a sting in the tail for the elder Margaret whose present is once again altered.
But is it for the better?
The underlying science
The Mindtraveler is a centipede of a book with many feet in many camps; romance, drama and sci-fi. But what makes this novel different from many others is how it intertwines real science within the narrative.
It’s beautifully done; the story is told from the viewpoint of a lady in her sixties who’s a lecturer and researcher at a university. When she explains science to the reader it’s as though…I was never quite sure…we were either her students or her grandchildren. I was happy with either.
So the science behind her experiments, her thought processes and the methods she uses to solve them are all explained to us clearly and fluently and we get to understand the mechanics of the time machine.
Bonnie has clearly looked into underlying scientific principles and applied them well as the basis for her main character’s time machine – and explanations of it to her colleagues.
And here’s a direct example of how well Bonnie understands the subject area:
In Chapter 3 Margaret describes an experiment which shows how 2 particles are entangled in time: a laser fires a beam to a crystal where twin photons in each split beam take different paths. The photons in one beam are delayed so they arrive later than it’s entangled photon in the other beam. The setup of the cameras to detect the photons capture the image of the earlier photon, but who’s pattern was determined by the latter photon.
Let’s jump away from the novel for a moment and dive into real life.
The image to the right is taken from an article in New Scientist, published on 27 August 2014, and shows cats which:
“…were generated using a cat stencil and entangled photons. The really spooky part is that the photons used to generate the image never interacted with the stencil, while the photons that illuminated the stencil were never seen by the camera.” (Quoted from New Scientist article)
What I find spooky is the similarity between Margaret’s experiment and this one! Kudos!
The time travel
Time travel is an integral part of the novel – not simply because there’s a time machine, but because the story involves its development, and crucially, the scientific thinking behind it.
The time travel method is to map the quantum state of the mind, and establish its quantum connection to another point in time. The mind can then travel through time (backwards or forwards) as long as the host body is ready to receive it.
This reminds me a little of the movie “Being John Malkovich” where a puppeteer enters the mind of John Malkovich and sees and feels everything that John can, but all the while maintains his own sense of self.
Unlike the puppeteer in the movie, Margaret finds it more difficult to control her host body, and asks herself the question “what was the point in going back in time if you can do nothing to change it?”
This is a key part of the novel – can (or should) you change the past? And likewise…can you change the future?
Whilst reading The Mindtraveler I also came to think of The Mirror by Marlys Millhiser. Admittedly I found The Mirror to be a huge disappointment and non-event, but there is a similarity in the novels in that there is a transference of mind from one body to another body in another time.
In The Mirror there was an interesting point where the mind that had gone back in time ‘caught up’ with its own body in the present.
Whilst this didn’t quite happen in The Mindtraveler (though I think would have given rise to some interesting implications!) there was an interesting Looper-like argument between young and old Margaret when two minds were in the same body at the same time.
Something which I thought was particularly good was how Margaret’s memory was preserved – both in the 60 year old’s memory of the past, and when she came back to the alternate present (i.e. no new memories were instilled, or original ones taken away). Whether this was due to the ‘mind mapping’ time travel technique, or something more philosophical I’m not sure – but it’s a really nice touch!
There is also a brilliant segment on Margaret’s lab assistant Morgan – pay attention to her!
The time travel element in The Mindtraveler isn’t simply a vessel to describe things in Margaret’s past; indeed, its description is done through thoughtful contrast with the perspective of the present.
So we’ve done the time travel…now what do we do now that we’re back in the past? Instead of droning on and on about the past as Jack Finney does in the dreadful Time and Again where nothing happens, The Mindtraveler is thankfully different.
Margaret cracks time travel and tries to change things, notably, her failed relationship. Whether the relationship between Margaret and Frank is the primary or secondary plot (after the time travel – getting to be in a position (i.e. a time) when the relationship can be salvaged) is probably a matter of personal perspective.
Margaret herself of course takes two personalities – those of her younger and older self – and this makes for some pretty interesting reading when it comes to her thoughts about Frank. (It was also interesting for me as a man to read about how women (or at least, this one) feel about relationships and things.) I’m generally not into romances and stuff, but it came across nicely here.
Something which immediately struck a chord with me (and perhaps this is because I’m a scientist by profession) is the accuracy of Bonnie’s insight (or research) into the negative side of academic politics – the petty mindedness and ambition of individuals, personal vendettas for selfish reasons.
You do get complete self serving and inflated s*its like Caleb, and you do get researchers on the fringe of the norm but who are academically excellent. These characters aren’t necessarily likeable, but they’re real.
However, the novel is about Margaret (and Frank), and about her research in time travel. It isn’t about her colleagues, friends or students – they feature because they make up part of her history, but they’re not the main focus. (Although as I mentioned earlier – pay attention to Morgan!)
Quite shockingly there are two violent episodes – police brutality and an attack. At first I wondered why they were included…but it was a natural read and the events didn’t appear to be contrived and added for the sake of it. Violence itself is shocking, but for me, what added to that is the fact that these events persisted to the memory of a 60 year old.
Well…understandable I think, given the circumstances.
For me the weak point in the novel is when Margaret returns to the present and hears that she’s won the Nobel Prize; I thought the timing was strange and too coincidental in that we’ve already seen that there can be an alternate history so the award of the er…award at exactly the point of her return seems too unlikely.
So is it better to have known love and lost it to a Nobel prize in physics, or to never have known [that] love at all?
When Margaret was in the ‘with-Frank’ future, she didn’t seem to take time to enjoy it fully, though I suppose the scientist side of her took control to see what had happened and how to preserve it. Her efforts are hampered, but it did leave me with an unanswered question: why didn’t Margaret go back in time again? Perhaps there is room for a sequel…I certainly hope so!
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski is due out in February 2015 and will be published by Bitingduck Press. Unless you can get hold of a time machine, you’ll just have to wait until then! 😉
Rating * * * * *
The Mindtraveler by Bonnie Rozanski gets 5 stars for all the reasons I’ve written about above!
The Mindtraveler: A captivating time travel romance novel with scientific oomph!
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Disclaimer: A PDF copy of The Mindtraveler” was sent to me free of charge so that I could read and write my honest thoughts and opinions. These are they!
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