We all have our bad days. Times when it feels like you are falling through a hole of regrets, missteps and all around wrong decisions, and sometimes there really isn’t much we can do about it except persevere—at least in Raymond J. Irvine’s case, the protagonist of Retcontinuum by Shaunn Grulkowski. This sci-fi adventure tells the tale of a man without any ambition, a man who just wants to get through life in the easiest way possible. In an attempt to achieve his ambitionless goal, he enrolls in a dodgy clinical trial for time-travel—what’s the worst that could happen?
In the first moments we enter Irvine’s futuristic world, he undergoes one of the many side effects of time-travel—temporary blindness. In a flash, Grulkowski shocks the readers with his detailed description of the incident. Irvine was in the midst of using the bathroom when suddenly everything went white. Not the brief white glare and haziness you get while staring at a light too long. No, Irvine’s world went stark white. It was such a heart-dropping, “Oh my God” moment that shocked me as a reader. The incident was a combination of horror and humor because the ever-lighthearted writing of Grulkowski. He describes Irvine shrieking and flopping around with his pants around his ankles. For any normal, functioning human being, temporary blindness would be enough to call it quits with clinical trails, but not for Irvine.
Unbeknownst to Irvine, there is a strange conspiracy between the company hosting the clinical trails, Sinclair Group, and a failed space launch attempt to Mars that caused NASA to shut down. As a child, the mission to Mars was an important historical event to Irvine but when it failed, so did his hopes and dreams. Hence his current ambitionless demeanor; however, with the side effects and scrambled secrets hidden in Irvine’s brain, he becomes a liability to Sinclair. Enlisting the help of an unlikely sub-contractor at the Sinclair clinical trial center, Irvine makes an attempt to untangle his memories and find the connection between the mysterious company and the mission to Mars.
Creating a literary futuristic world is hard to do, and sometimes it becomes so strange that the reader finds it hard to relate to. This is not the case in Retcontinuum because Grulkowski makes his characters so relatable, and their reactions feel realistic. He doesn’t force feed information and background to the reader; instead we are given a glimpse into an insane future through interviews and case files. Humor and wit are interwoven throughout the story, making it a wonderfully entertaining read.