In W. Laurence’s new novel Syncing Forward, the protagonist Martin James is investigating possible theft and espionage when he’s injected with a drug that slows his body down so much he finds himself unstuck in time. He’s able to realign with everyone else for short bursts of time. What seems like a day for James is months for everyone else, which naturally strains his personal and family relationships, as well as his search for a cure. I enjoy well written timetravel, when it’s more about how human relationships are affected than technobabbling about how the time machine works. In this case, time travel was more of a mechanic to tell a story, or really two stories, one about what happens to James’ family as a result of this, and another about James’ search for the antidote and the various organizations involved in keeping it away from him.
The future in Syncing Forward is simultaneously scary and realistic. I don’t want to reveal too much, because I really enjoyed the way world events at each of James’ synchronizations unfolded into the next. One plotpoint involves genetically modified food that’s slowly eliminating a certain group of people, and the narration is careful to point out that this is malicious and intentional, and not just the usual macro corporations accidentally offing people to save money. At other points in the novel, we encounter more sinister and extreme versions of today’s political factions.
The beginning is a little awkward and a little jarring, but keep reading through the exposition and the story becomes a page-turner. There are occasional troublesome transitions, but the novel is both a compelling family saga and a dystopian scifi adventure, so there’s bound to be a little awkwardness between the two.
My only complaint is this is another rich, developed scifi world with very few roles for women. James’ daughters are both dutiful family-focused women in their own ways, and Wfeature well in the family-sage side of the novel. Science and technology have advanced quite far in this novel, and along realistic channels, but as James deals with a shady world of scientific terrorists, researchers, double agents, and not to mention cosmonauts interested in his longevity for their own purposes, he tends to deal with men (and, towards the end, a sexy lady companion-bot). Would have been nice to see more female characters in the hard science story arc as well.
Good scifi creates a believable future world and then sets the action in that world, but because of the time travel mechanic, Syncing Forward creates many believable, engaging future worlds.