Ah, alternate history recipes! What can’t you do? From Nazis with spaceships to Ben Franklin summoning dragons, alternate history meals can present all sorts of bizarre scenarios … and quite a few starkly realistic ones. That is the intent of today’s meal, to show an alternate contemporary environment, diverging only a short time before the present day and trying to stay fiercely grounded in the real and natural. Does Yesterday’s Tomorrow capture the essence of realism and push forward this alternate history?
Before we find out, let us take the Starving Review oath:
- I attempt to rate every book from the perspective of a fan of the genre
- I attempt to make every review as spoiler-free as possible
Unlike my usual formula, we’re actually going to tackle the rough points first, then bring up the good. Now, as I noted, Tomorrow strives to be a realistic, alternate take on history, diverging when terrorists detonate a nuclear weapon in a plane over Washington, DC (as this is the core premise that is revealed early, I don’t consider this SPOILERS). The meal strives to then explore the aftermath, both with normal people, the government, and the military.
So where is that rough? Well, the devil is in the details, my foodies, quite literally in this case. The inherent problem with a solidly realistic setting is that you need to get every ingredient just right or else people will notice. The chefs do get many of the flavors just right, especially in their depiction of the military moments (a very small part of the book, all told), but there are crucial, core details (things that the premise hinges on) that are very wrong. If this wasn’t meant to be so ‘on-point’ realistic and contemporary (it name-drops President Obama thus precisely dating itself), it would be easy to hand-wave a ‘near-future advanced-tech’ explanation for the effects of the inciting incident, but you can’t do that here.
If you can put that aside, Tomorrow‘s other flaw would be an uneven dramatic curve and pacing. Everything starts quite tense with the nuclear attack and the aftermath of that (even if those details are flawed), but then it can’t seem to find a solid footing. We are certainly told that we should be concerned, that things are tense and emotionally, but so few things happen to bring on that emotional tension. Again, this isn’t universal; there are several emotionally hard-hitting scenes to be sure, but so many of the other scenes rely on telling rather than showing the impact that the souffle falls when it should be rising.
But, as you may have noticed, Tomorrow has quite a few strong points as well. The writing style is overall crisp and the chefs utilize a smart, non-linear timeline to connect its array of journal entries with the themed sections, creating a unifying throughline for all the major players. The characters themselves are relatable and interesting if a little constrained by the weight of such a large cast being introduced.
Tomorrow also avoids the problem many book series have wherein each book fails to tell a complete story. Tomorrow certainly eschews this, ensuring that the characters and the stories run a complete arc while setting things up for a continued series. Well, the arcs are complete if a little constrained … I hate to bring a bit of negative into the positive section … but I do need to note that this meal is a bit short, a bit too short to try to tell such an encompassing story. It does a fair job with its size, but it really needed a hundred more pages to allow all these story arcs and characters to properly breathe.
Okay, let’s sum this one up: Yesterday’s Tomorrow is a solid contemporary alternate history that stumbles a bit in pacing and realism. If you come in ready to handwave the few major factual inconsistencies and want to read some conceptually interesting contemporary thrillers, I’d suggest picking this one up. If you’re a reader that hates realistic things that aren’t that realistic or aren’t interested in takes on modern terrorism and thrillers, I’d avoid this one.
FINAL VERDICT: *** (A solid contemporary alternate history that stumbles in pacing, realism, and tension.)