Most timeslip stories are fantasy--the travel through time is left a mystery that science can not explain. Sometimes, though, scientific principles drive the passage of people, things, or messages from one time to another, and sometimes very good books are the result. One such book is The Tomorrow Code, by Brian Falkner (2008, Random House, 347 pp, upper middle grade/YA, an import from New Zealand).
"The end of the world started quietly enough for Tane Williams and Rebecca Richards, lying on their backs on a wooden platform on Lake Sunnyvale. Which wasn't really a lake at all." (page 3)
Tane and Rebecca have been friends forever, the sort of friends who spend an evening on the flooded playing field of their old elementary school, looking up at the night sky and arguing about time travel. Rebecca's super smart, logical mind rejects the idea, but Tane, thinking outside the box, wonders if it might not be possible to send messages back into the past....
It is possible. Soon, the two of them have received, as a gift from the future, winning lottery numbers. But there are strings attached--the messages they are getting (encoded in gamma ray bursts) are an SOS from their future selves. The Chimera project, whatever that is, must be stopped, and Tane and Rebecca must race to decode the instructions they are getting before humanity is destroyed.
The first step is to buy a state of the art submarine. The second, to break into a top secret biolab. The third, to stop the mysterious fog enshrouded horrors that were unleashed despite their plans, horrors that are steadily depopulating New Zealand.
And finally, Tane, Rebecca, and Tane's big brother ("Fatboy"), have to set up the device that will let their future selves change the past. Not easy to do, when death delivering fog surrounds the site where the machine must go...
This is a tremendously exciting story (as well as submarine fun and decoding mysterious messages, there is a great battle scene that made me sniff a little bit), and it hangs together very nicely plot-wise. A criticism I sometimes have of fast packed adventures is that charging around saving the world leaves little room for character development, but that is most emphatically not the case here. Even though they are involved in a desperate struggle, the three teenagers are still strongly individual, working out their relationships with each other and their thoughts about themselves, their families, and their world.
Added bonus features: diversity--Tane and his brother are Maori, and this is important to the story; environmentalism--the question of human impact on the world is central to the plot; gender balance--both girl and boys are important and have their own strengths to give to the group effort; and finally, good solid writing, without run-on sentences (I would never be caught dead writing run on sentences, she says ironically) or unnecessary latinate words.
In short, I think this is a pretty darn good book.
viz age range--it's perfectly suitable for middle grade readers in that there is no sex (although there are emotional attachments swirling around), drugs, 0r bad language, but people do die in large numbers (although not disgustingly), and there are pretty weighty issues addressed. I'll be giving this to my son when he's around 11, I think. It's even suitable for adult readers of science fiction (I'm feeling a tad sore, even after weeks have passed, about some very condescending reviews of YA science fiction/fantasy I happened to read).
I pretty much read whatever AFortis and Tanita over at Finding Wonderland tell me to, and, as usual, this one didn't disapoint--here's the review that added this one to my list.
Other reviews at Create Readers, where I found the New Zealand cover at right, which is described by Readplus (an Australian review site) as "bland." Although the book got a great review there too.
The book has a great website, where you can learn more about the science behind the book, Morse code, the geography and culture of New Zealand.