What a “techno-utopian paradise” would look like to someone in the 1950s
Elan Mastai’s debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays, draws on his early fascination with his grandfather’s collection of vintage science-fiction novels
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Growing up, Elan Mastai was fascinated by his grandfather’s collection of vintage science-fiction novels from the postwar era. He loved the stories contained within their brittle yellow pages, but especially the book covers.
He remembers staring at the garish illustrations of space adventurers, moon bases and flying cars. But even as a kid of the ’80s, Mastai was already aware that the world had not exactly turned out the way these authors had imagined it. He remembers asking himself: “What happened to the future we were promised?”
Mastai’s childhood fascination would never completely disappear, and later would become the genesis for his debut novel, All Our Wrong Todays, a humorous but prescient tale set in an alternative, utopian version of 2016, where war and famine — and even browning avocados — don’t exist.
The story is told from the perspective of Tom Barren, the slacker son of a genius inventor who developed a time machine. After lust gets the best of Tom and he sleeps with the wrong person, his actions create a domino effect and he is catapulted into a dystopian universe that is recognizable as our own world. There, Tom discovers another version of himself and his loved ones, and must decide where he wants to live.
The Toronto-based, Vancouver-raised screenwriter is best known for his work on the 2013 twenty-something’s romance film The F Word (or What If, in the U.S.), starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. Initially, Mastai conceived All Our Wrong Todays as a film as well — and is currently working on the screenplay adaption, which was picked up by Paramount Pictures — but realized he wanted to tell this story as a faux memoir.
He had the idea back in 2009, but let it gestate for five years before he started writing, carving out time during evenings and weekends, never imagining that it would become the hot ticket at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair, boasting a seven-figure deal and sales in 27 countries. “I had no anticipation of the response we were going to get,” he says. “It’s not even something I thought about. It was gratifying but also mind-blowing.”
Although Mastai was influenced by his early memories of his grandfather’s books, and his visits to Expo 86 in Vancouver — the last World Fair to be hosted in North America — he didn’t draw from specific sources, but rather the feelings inspired by those collective cultural touchstones.
The book is filtered through a postwar perspective; an imagining of what a “techno-utopian paradise” would look like to someone in the 1950s.
“There would be certain social things that would seem odd to us now,” Mastai says. “They have a different relationship with authority, with consumerism, gender roles play out differently. They didn’t go through a lot of the political and social upheavals that we went through in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.”
As a writer, Mastai enjoyed deconstructing those classic tropes, and imagining them from another, more modern, angle.
“It’s not just the dazzling idea of a flying car, but what would traffic be like? A car crash? And how would it affect your morning commute to work?” he asks. “How would teleportation affect your friendships and relationships? The technology is interesting, but more so are the unintended consequences.”
Sue Carter is the editor at Quill & Quire magazine.