Review: The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops)

Reading The Day After Never (by Nathan Van Coops) is like folding raspberry jam through ice cream. Parts seem immiscible at first, but by the end of the novel you realise that it comes together to make it a really cool novel!

The Day After Never by Nathan Van Coops

The Series

The Day After Never is Nathan Van Coops’ third novel, following In Times Like These and The Chronothon.

The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops) book cover
The Day After Never (Nathan Van Coops) book cover

I read these novels in all the wrong order (Book 2, Book 1 then Book 3) and I’m happy to confirm Nathan’s statements at the start of each novel that whilst they’re connected they can be read independently from each other.

When I read The Chronothon I was able to pick up easily the brilliantly thought out time travel methodology. Coming to The Day After Never with over 2 years between reads was a little more difficult for the first few chapters, and I’m going to blame that on my ageing and failing memory, but indeed, the gravitite particles, chronometers, anchor points, etc…ah yes, it’s all coming back now like an old friend! 🙂

What about the rest of it?

Writing style

The story telling style, like with Books 1 and 2 is first person (so like The Time Machine) but the elegant twist is that it’s done in the present tense. I like this – it makes me feel that I’m right by Ben (the main protagonist) and seeing events through his eyes ‘live’.

Well, I say “first person” and I say “live”, but these are debatable terms…

The Day After Never is effectively told from 2 points of view but from the same person (Ben) who’s in two differing states of ‘being’. There’s the Ben in the “Neverwhere” (where time doesn’t exist) and the Ben in real life. The lines cross at times with varying amounts of interaction (actually reference is made to this in The Chronothon) but they’re not quite interlaced and woven together as a single fine fabric as much as an itchy woolly jumper covers a T-shirt.

Many novels drop into the time travel genre simply because certain aspects of it are told from the point of view from a character from another time period. We get this In Times Like These, The Chronothon and here in The Day After Never because they’re told in first person through Ben’s eyes, but the series sits more firmly within the time travel genre because we have a good solid dose of time travel with methodology and paradoxes. Where The Chronothon gives us a good set of time travel nuts and bots and different time periods, The Day After Never gives us an additional insight into differing times through Tucket.

Tucket’s from the future and finds it exciting to be in the present. He displays high levels of enthusiasm and exuberance and coupled with his taste in clothing it’s a joy to read about him! The icing on the Tucket cake is his thoughts and opinions about modern day culture which give us a nice glimpse into the future. In my humble opinion, Tucket is the star of the show, and in a sense, the unsung hero. Keep an eye on Tucket, everyone!

And of course there’s Benjamin Travers. Ben to his friends. Sometimes even “Dip Shit Ben” to those same friends…

Ben

I’ll come right out with it. Despite being a real fan of Ben in The Chronothon, my feelings about him have completely changed in in The Day After Never. He’s turned into a complete @rse; he certainly seems to be different from how I remember him.

As far as I can tell, The Day After Never picks up 2 weeks since the end of The Chronothon so I don’t really expect him to change in this time. But he has. He’s less of a nice guy and more selfish and less patient with others. Oddly I was reminded of my teenage years. When my mates got girlfriends they became @rses. (You know that song “When a man loves a woman // turn his back on his best friend”) and then be best buddies again when things went tits up. Is Ben like this, turning into a jerk now that he’s got the girl?

This might be the clue. The Ben who’s with Mym now is not the Ben who did stuff in the chronothon. Is this why he’s different? Is he miserable, or feeling undeserving to get the girl?

As it is, Ben’s friends don’t seem to notice the change in him. You know the popular guy in the bar with all the friends and who has it all? He wins competitions and has an intelligent and beautiful girlfriend. The one who gets on with everyone – except you? Meet Ben.

He’s not the positive and optimistic Ben of The Chronothon. He moans about cat videos on the internet; when he’s asked about new technology we read:

“I just stare back at him. “Has it got googly-moogly what now?” ”

He’s incredibly impatient with Tucket and he barely opens up to Mym. I’m very hard pressed to accept that this is the same Ben. This character mutilation is made all the worse when we find out that there are many versions of him; we’ve even got a “Dip Shit Ben” and a “Crazy Benny” (though admittedly these are Bens from alternate time lines).

Thankfully, by the time the plot gets going and Ben is thrust into action, he reverts back to his usual good natured self. Maybe he’s just the kind of guy who does best under pressure.

The Neverwhere

Along-side the Ben in real life, we have the Ben in the Neverwhere. The Neverwhere is a place outside of time and where at best there’s a tenuous connection with the real world.

In a sense it’s some sort of Matrix analogue – it’s too difficult for the mind to see so the mind hangs onto its memories. Once the mind has a better perspective then the Neverwhere can be seen for what it really is. Nathan has clearly spent a tremendous amount of time in constructing the Neverwhere and the physics / philosophies that lie within it. Indeed, Ben needs time to learn how it works (for example how to move from time to time or moving through memories) as well as coming to terms with being there in the first place.

It’s this learning curve which is the making and downfall of the Neverwhere. At first the Neverwhere was interesting in comparison to a slow start with ‘real’ Ben because we’re also learning how things work. When things with real Ben pick up, the Neverwhere continues slow and steady. Ben’s actions are primarily driven by his questions, but essentially there’s so much introspection that at times it got monotonous. In comparison with the real version of events this made the Neverwhere a dull hiatus to plough through.

Then again, I suppose that’s the thing with Neverwhere.

The plot

I was well over 100 pages in and the plot still wasn’t clear to me. (It reminded me of In Times Like These which for the first 7 chapters were so incredibly slow I gave up. Luckily I was persuaded to push through, and indeed things picked up to make a pretty decent novel out of the remaining chapters.) Ben in Neverwhere was there but didn’t know why, how, or what to do, and irritating Ben in reality was squawking about after an attack at one of Dr Quickly’s labs and they’re off to see what happened. Perhaps as in real life, once something happened to Ben’s girlfriend then things started moving.

And this is when the groundwork laid out in the early chapters pays off. Ben is back to being Ben, we see more time travel jumps, and there’s tension in the plot which keeps us turning those pages. I’ve already mentioned Tucket through whom we get some ideas about the future, but written within the story are some more brilliant sci fi ideas.

My favourite is metaspace – a virtual reality overlay accessed in real time which opens up a whole new world. Nathan doesn’t leave it there – he incorporates technology required to support and be supported by metaspace and training programs. Space elevators, underwater complexes, synths (synthetic humans), the novel is rife with juicy ideas! I really enjoyed a section of the novel set in Nyongo in 2165 where we see a social structure working around and against the cultural and technological norms of the time.

Where The Chronothon had Ben playing some clever time travel tricks, The Day After Never doesn’t lend itself easily to Ben’s aptitude in this arena. But we do see some clever time loops being integrated into the plot where I think many other authors would have been more cautious and shied away.

Nathan clearly has an army of movies and novels in his arsenal, and we see references and influences of these in his writing. Subjectively I didn’t care for some of them, but for many I did. There’s a brilliant quote about a place which was “…more Star Wars than Star Trek”! 🙂

Every Rose has its Thorn

Despite my earlier comments about a slow start in reality and Ben being a pillock, I have no general overall problem – these points are more than made up with subsequent pacing, other characters (and change of character). But I do have a couple of negative thoughts about The Day After Never.

The first is the rock bottom basic story line which is basically a Harry Potter-ish rehash. And like many of J. K. Rowling’s ideas, this one can be found in countless other novels and movies as well. It’s just not very original, and given the volume and depth of Nathan’s sci fi ideas it’s a huge disappointment.

The saving grace is that it’s buried deep within a multitude of sub plots and secondary story lines so in practical terms it doesn’t really matter.

My second point is similarly small, though perhaps with greater ramifications. There’s an attempt to explain a Biblical occurrence using time travellers. To be clear, I’m not getting all grumpy because I’m a Christian and don’t like this sort of thing (actually the opposite – I like questioning stuff!) My gripe is again the lack of originality. Wiggling in religious reminded me of The Accidental Time Machine (Joe Haldeman) who also crow-barred in an unnecessary religious angle.

I suppose I should just be thankful that there wasn’t a crass attempt at solving the JFK assassination. And anyway, to be fair, a page or so later and the incident was gone.

In closing

This is best summed up as H O L L Y W O O D. It’s got more cheese than a Dutch street market, and is as predictable as the knowledge that the vendor is going to do his best to overcharge you – and make you feel good about it. And as a father of two little girls I was dismayed beyond belief with how things stood between Mym and her father at the end. But I suppose it works.

Thankfully there are two saving graces. The first is something that we should expect from the moderator of the Goodreads time travel group – the closing of multiple loose ends and avoidance of paradoxes. In some cases I didn’t even realise that there were any loose ends! I think this is simple author downright honesty. Seemingly meaningless actions in Book 1 are revisited, and it’s expertly done! I’m sure some other authors would simply let these things fly.

And finally, the closing scene between Ben and Mym. Sheer beauty! Ben is back to being the Ben from the chronothon times, and the way that these characters interact is crafted masterfully. For me, this is almost the crux of a blimming good time travel novel – hints of methodology, possibility, destiny and mystery. It’s all there in the last few pages, and brings the novel to a beautiful conclusion.

Rating * * * * *

On a time travel footing, The Day After Never gets the full 5 stars. It continues with a solid and consistent time travel methodology and pays great attention to paradoxes. I really like the time loops, and the fantastic feast of futuristic features more than makes up for the slow start and an irritating (at first) main character.

More please Nathan!

Paul

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The Day After Never by Nathan Van Coops
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Author: Paul Wandason

I love astronomy and science fiction, but I love my family more. So I love time travel too!

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