Author: Brian Faulkner
Genre: Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Random House for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 2009
Paperback: 368 Pages
“The end of the world started quietly enough for Tane Williams and Rebecca Richards. . . .”
Tane and Rebecca aren’t sure what to make of it—a sequence of 1s and 0s, the message looks like nothing more than a random collection of alternating digits. Working to decode it, however, they discover that the message contains lottery numbers . . . lottery numbers that win the next random draw! More messages follow, and slowly it becomes clear—the messages are being sent from Tane and Rebecca’s future. Something there has gone horribly wrong, and it’s up to them to prevent it from happening. The very survival of the human race may be at stake!
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: Bought
Why did I read this book: The concept of The Tomorrow Code appealed to me in three ways: 1. Impending Apocalypse Awesomeness; 2. Quantum Foam/Physics Geek Awesomeness; 3. Lost-Hurley-“Numbers” Premise Awesomeness. I hadn’t heard of this book until I stumbled upon it in The Strand bookstore, and obviously, it was kismet.
Best friends and neighbors Tane and Rebecca have known each other for their entire lives. One night, while floating on their backs in the flooded Sunnyvale playground (affectionately referred to as “Sunnyvale Lake”), the creative-minded Tane catches sight of a shooting star, and has a wildly speculative idea about time travel. Though the brilliant (and college-level physics genius) Rebecca scoffs at Tane’s silliness at trying to send a human back in time, the two come up with another proposition: what if it were possible to send a message back through the “quantum foam,” like a facsimile through space and time? Rebecca suggests that even though they do not have the technology to create a transmitting device, they could certainly create a computer program that could “listen” for patterns in gamma ray bursts – and, using her connections at the Auckland University, the two teens are able to get their hands on a copy of the latest BATSE (the NASA probe collecting information) data to analyze.
Never in their wildest dreams, however, did they expect to discover an encrypted message hidden as a pattern in the data. Sent from their future, the message reveals the next week’s winning lottery numbers, but also a dire warning. The world is about to come to a terrifying end, and only Tane and Rebecca can stop the impending apocalypse. Together, with the help of Tane’s older brother Fatboy, the teens rush to decode the messages from the future before it is too late.
New Zealand native author Brian Falkner makes his American debut with The Tomorrow Code, an engrossing YA thriller about the end of the world (and astrophysics-powered time travel). Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a thing for Australian apocalyptic SF (take Isobel Carmody’s Obernewtyn books, or John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began, for example), and now I can add New Zealand to the list of SF books I love. The Tomorrow Code is awesomesauce, pure and simple. Yes, it strains the limits of credulity with its genius code-cracking protagonists, but isn’t this one of the classic genre tropes that keeps readers young and old coming back for more? Whether it be Harry Potter and his destiny to stop Voldemort once and for all, the witty Lyra and subtle knife-wielding Will protecting their worlds from collapse, or the Pevensie siblings saving Narnia from the clutches of an endless frozen winter, we love these books even as they do push the constraints of rationality. As Rebecca herself says in this novel, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you” – and I’m willing to suspend disbelief for books as fun and enticing as this one.
The most appealing thing, to me, about The Tomorrow Code was in its blend of believable characters, cinematic plot (ludicrous or not), and a harder science fiction sensibility. Written in 2004 before the launch of Swift which replaced BATSE later that year, I loved the idea of sending short messages from the future through collected burst data through so-called quantum foam. Although this isn’t an entirely novel concept (I’m thinking John Carpenter’s pseudo-physics tachyon particle craziness in Prince of Darkness – which I love even though I know it’s ridiculous), I’m a sucker for these kinds of storylines, and as The Tomorrow Code actually has scientific merit, it’s all the more impressive. The actual nature of the impending apocalypse is also a fascinating (if, again, not entirely original) concept – the world dies a quiet death, thanks to some rhino virus-chimera research (and that’s all I’ll say on the matter for fear of spoilers).
While the core concepts and premise of the book are strong, equally appealing is The Tomorrow Code‘s deft plotting. Intense and action-packed, I loved the race against time to solve clues from the future, as well as the struggles and tension between the trio of protagonists. Also, the Lost geek in me (rest in peace, beloved show) couldn’t be happier with the significance of numbers and lottery winnings. Most of all, I loved Tane – the quiet, creative genius that more often than not was able to decode meaning behind the cryptic messages sent through the burst data. Though the book is narrated in the third person, Tane is clearly our protagonist, and his conflicting emotions with his brother Fatboy and Rebeca lends a human face and emotion to the novel. These characters are young, flawed and even while the decode the future remain somewhat clueless to each other, which makes for a wonderful human tension throughout the book. The relationship between Rebecca and her shell-shocked mother, between Tane and his brother, and, of course, between Tane and Rebecca are layered, tangled things. Mr. Falkner does a beautiful job of adding complex human emotions to a book that could have been a fun but forgettable thriller.
Also, I would be remiss not to mention the beautiful setting of the book and the cultural and patriotic aspect of the text. Set in Auckland, the New Zealand countryscape and Maori culture play an invaluable formative role in the text – from Fatboy’s character to the locations and stories (e.g. Motukiekie Island, Maori “pa”s, etc). This diversity is awesome and informative, and a welcome relief from the usual monochromatic pacific northwestern United States or fantasy setting of western Europe that seems to dominate so much YA and SF fiction.
As I mentioned before, there are certain aspects of the book that are a little cheesy (the interpretation of American soldiers, for example) and strain reader credulity (i.e. Rebecca is a genius teen that can computer code AND knows a whole lot about genetic engineering AND gamma ray bursts AND…you get the picture). And yet, all that aside, I found myself lapping up The Tomorrow Code and hungry for more. The novel has an open ending, with loose ends that are obliquely acknowledged – grandfather paradoxes, the question of origination of certain technologies, parallel universes versus a single closed loop, to name a few. While I found the conclusion fitting, clever and even a little poetic, I wouldn’t be averse to a sequel (you know, in a Groundhog Day/”Monday” X-Files episode type of way). Any plans, Mr. Falkner? Pretty please?
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
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.
Sunnyvale School was set in a small valley. A nice little suburban valley. A hundred years ago, it had been a nice little swamp where Pukeko and Black Stilts had competed for the best nesting positions, and croakless native frogs had snared insects with their flicking tongues. But now it was a nice little suburban valley, surrounded by nice little homes belonging to nice little homeowners who painted their fences and paid their taxes and never gave any thought to the fact that when it rained, all the water that ran through their properties also ran through the properties below, and the properties below those, and so on until it reached the lowest point of the valley floor. Which happened to be Sunnyvale School.
As a consequence, Sunnyvale School had to have very good drainage. When it rained hard, as it often did in Auckland in the spring, an awful lot of that rain made its way down from the hillsides and ended up on the playing fields and courts of the small but cheerful school.
And sometimes the water, sauntering its way down the slopes with a mind and a mischievous personality of its own, would playfully pick up odds and ends along the way with a view to blocking those very good drains that the council had put in many years ago after the first and second (and possibly the third) time the school had flooded.
Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. It depended on what the water happened to find in its path. Little sticks and paper food wrappings washed right through the big metal grills of the drains. Small branches, stones, and other large objects generally just ended up at the bottom of the homeowners’ nice little properties.
But light twigs and pieces of plastic sailed merrily down the surface of the water and blocked the drains beautifully.
That was what had happened this particular time, and the sports fields of Sunnyvale School were covered in at least four inches of water, high enough to lap at the doorsteps of the cheerful little classrooms across the way, but fortunately not quite high enough to get inside.
Tane and Rebecca lay on their backs on the small wooden viewing platform in the center of the two main playing fields and looked up at the stars, for the rain had stopped many hours ago, and the night was clear and beautiful.
Neither of them were pupils of Sunnyvale School; in fact, both of them were far too old to attend the school, and for another fact, both of them were in their second year at West Auckland High School.
However, when they were younger, they had both gone to Sunnyvale School, which was why they knew that when it rained really hard during the day and stopped at night, it became a magical, wonderful place to be.
The stars above shone down with a piercing intensity that penetrated the haze of lights from the suburban homes around the valley. The moon, too, was lurking about, turning the weathered wood of the small platform to silver. All around them, the lights from the sky above reflected in the inky blackness that was Lake Sunnyvale. The lake that sometimes appeared on the playing fields after a particularly heavy rainstorm.
There were stars above and stars below, rippling slowly in the light breeze, and it was like being out in the center of the universe, floating through space on your back.
Tane and Rebecca thought it was the coolest place to be. On Lake Sunnyvale. After the rain.
Tane tossed a pebble into the air, and there was a satisfying plop a few seconds later as it landed. They both raised their heads to see the widening circles of ripples, shaking the foundations of the stars around them. Then, as if controlled by the same puppeteer, they put their heads back down together.
Tane’s feet were pointing one way, and Rebecca’s were pointing the other, so the tops of their heads were just about touching. If they had been boyfriend and girlfriend, they might have lain down side by side, but they weren’t, so they didn’t.
From an open window in a house somewhere on the surrounding slopes, an old Joni Mitchell folk song reached out plaintively across the water to them.
Rebecca said again, “Time travel is impossible.” She said it more firmly this time, as if that were simply the end of the discussion, and the judge’s decision was final, and no correspondence would be entered into.
Now, ordinarily Tane would have given up at that point, because Rebecca was almost certainly right. After all, it was Rebecca, and not Tane, who had aced her Level One Physics exams the previous year, the top student in the entire country, at the age of just thirteen! Which had been no real surprise to Tane, who had been in the same classes as his friend as she had confounded science teacher after science teacher and math teacher after math teacher, by somehow, instinctively, knowing as much about the subject they were teaching as they did.
Some teachers enjoyed having Rebecca in their class because she was very, very clever, if a little rebellious and uncontrollable at times. But other teachers found it stressful to have a girl among their students who took great delight in correcting them whenever they made mistakes.
So if Rebecca said that time travel was impossible, then time travel was impossible. But there was something about the stars that night. Something about their slow drift through the heavens above and below them, something about the beautifully random and randomly beautiful patterns they made.
Or then again, it might just have been that Tane liked to argue, and he especially liked to argue with Rebecca.
You can read more about The Tomorrow Code on the book’s official website HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Brian Falkner’s The Tomorrow Code marks the second awesome New Zealand authored (and location centered) book that I’ve read this year, the other being the lovely Karen Healey’s Guardian of the Dead (which both Ana and I loved).
I realize that while I like the Australian SF/F crew a whole bunch, I haven’t really read much from New Zealand. Any suggestions?
Rating: 8 – Excellent
Reading Next: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin