Review: The Edge of Yesterday (C.J. Birch)

As a rule, I try to avoid science fiction that involves time travel. Time travel gets very messy, and most authors don’t think enough about the implications on a character’s own timeline when moving those characters back and forth through time. Case in point: a recent movie on one of the streaming services that sent soldiers back in time to gather a group of people to come fight in the future (of those soldiers) against something. I didn’t watch it because my immediate thought was: why not just bring technology backwards or give it to the people in that time, a la Star Trek IV’s transparent aluminum?

In any case, I’m glad I took a chance on this book, because it is fantastic.

Hundreds of years into the future, people 0n Earth are living far underground to avoid detection by drones. Most live a hand to mouth existence, there is no sun, no plants, and no fun. It seems nanobot technology ran amok (Terminator-style) and humans went into hiding.

Using AI as a helper, they’ve figured out how to use time travel, and they send people back to the past with specific tasks to perform to try to avoid having this particular occur, based on percentages determined by the AI. I could see a problem with this.

Easton Gray is selected to be a level five in her department: the level fives are the people who slip into the past, perform their task, and then hit the recall option on the computer implanted in their forearm. Her sister Calla is the only family she has left: her mother died when she was 12, and her father died at some undetermined date along the way. Calla has been promoted to the survey crew – a very dangerous job in itself – but Easton doesn’t want her to take it because of the danger. They argue a bit about it, and Easton tries to deal with Calla’s boss to move her to something else, only to find someone higher on the food chain has already done this. As it turns out -and as to be expected -it isn’t just actions in the past that have consequences.

Easton makes the jump. Her task: find and kill Zach Nolan, who is deemed responsible for the nanobots raging out of control. She finds herself in a field, naked, near a farmhouse. When the residents leave, she pops in, steals some clothes, and she’s on her way. Eventually, she finds and presumably breaks into the veterinary office of Dr Tess Nolan.

It turns out Tess has come to live in this rural town after leaving Vancouver and a rather crazy woman she was dating. The local vet was retiring, so she bought the practice. Tess happens to come into the office, and patches up Easton, who refuses to go to the hospital.

They meet again around town. Easton continues gathering information, as the people coming from the future are dropped in near when their target(s) can be acquired, never an exact date. Tess and Easton get to know one another, and they’re quite taken with one another. But Easton knows that not Zach alone needs to die: his discoveries go to Tess when he dies, and she is then responsible for the dystopian nightmare in the future. Easton arranges it, then sits back.

Only to find herself dropped into the field again. Something has gone wrong, and when that happens, they’re just dropped right back into the same place to try again.

Easton goes through a few of these iterations, increasingly having issues with not wanting to kill Tess, even though she knows one death could save billions.

But then a mystery visitor shows up, and the entire mission is turned on its head. I won’t go further than that except to say: the explanation makes complete sense, and confirmed one of my suspicions. The action picks up as hunters arrive to chase them, and the outcome is…well, you’ll have to read it.

It’s a great read, even if you’re not particularly into science fiction. If you do like science fiction, like me, I think you’ll find both the technological and philosophical issues around time travel adequately explained, and better, to make sense.

Five out of five stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

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