The Next Chapter

Elan Mastai imagines the future in his debut novel

The Canadian screenwriter shares the inspiration behind his first novel that is partially set in a utopian universe.
Mastai has always been fascinated with the science fiction of the past that imagined bizarre, innovative futures. (David Leyes / Doubleday Canada)

For the past 15 years, Elan Mastai has been writing screenplays for award-winning films. His highly anticipated novel, All Our Wrong Todays, marked his debut as a novelist and propelled him into the world of science fiction.

The novel features two alternate versions of 2016 — a futuristic version of 2016 that was envisioned in the 1950s with flying cars, food pills, jet packs — and our real version of 2016. Tom Barren, the protagonist, lives in the futuristic utopia with his genius inventor father. When his mother dies, Barren is devastated and makes a series of ill-fated time travel-related decisions that ultimately shift the structure of the universe.

All Our Wrong Todays is on the Canada Reads 2019 longlist. The final five books and the panellists defending them will be revealed on Jan. 31, 2019. The 2019 debates are happening on March 25-28, 2019 and will be hosted by Ali Hassan.

Robots and rocket ships

When I was a kid, my grandfather who was a chemist by trade, he had this extensive collection of 1940s, 1950s, 1960s science fiction, like old sci-fi novels and anthologies. As a kid, I was fascinated by them. I loved staring at these garishly painted covers of robots and square-jawed adventurers and mad scientists and rocket ships and moon bases. These ideas of these imagined futures were really compelling to me.

Taking the leap

I lost my mother at a relatively early age. I was in my mid-20s and she passed away from cancer. Like my protagonist, I was at a time in my life where I hadn't really figured out what I was going to do with my life. I knew I wanted to be a writer. But going from wanting to be a writer to actually being a professional writer seemed like such a huge leap. But in some ways, I think if there's one kind of last gift my mom gave to me. It was just a sense of what really matters — the people that you love, your family and your dreams. Tom in the book, he doesn't get to have that conversation with his mother and he's reeling and making a lot of bad decisions, letting his emotions cloud his judgment and it has catastrophic results — not just for his life but for literally the space-time continuum.

Elan Mastai's comments have been edited and condensed.