An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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America is in the grip of a deadly flu pandemic. When Frank catches the virus, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him, even if it means risking everything. She agrees to a radical plan—time travel has been invented in the future to thwart the virus. If she signs up for a one-way-trip into the future to work as a bonded labourer, the company will pay for the life-saving treatment Frank needs. Polly promises to meet Frank again in Galveston, Texas, where she will arrive in twelve years.
But when Polly is re-routed an extra five years into the future, Frank is nowhere to be found. Alone in a changed and divided America, with no status and no money, Polly must navigate a new life and find a way to locate Frank, to discover if he is alive, and if their love has endured.
This book is so different from what I was expecting. The time travel elements were essentially just a plot point, not a major player in the function of the story. Instead this novel operates as a dystopia.
When Polly arrives in the future, the flu pandemic has wiped out 92% of “America”, the independent nation made up of the South-West region of the modern United States. In order to rebuild, they have brought in laborers from the past. The vast majority of the novel is spent exploring what a country run almost entirely by corporation would be like, and offers a modern-day look at indentured servitude.
As you can imagine, it paints a pretty bleak picture.
The writing is fantastic. Lim’s prose are lyrical and beautiful, almost poetic at times. Her world-building is unique and thorough. If you like dystopian novels, I highly recommend An Ocean of Minutes.
It wasn’t for me, though. While the world-building was strong, Polly’s character development suffered, in my opinion. While it makes sense in the context of the story that she would have little autonomy, reading about a character who can do nothing and tries to do nothing to change her course was frustrating. I especially disliked how everything that happened to her was a result of the choices of other characters. She just … goes along with everything, and sometimes people help her out, and other times they screw her over, and she just blindly trusts them either way. I don’t know, that didn’t sit quite right with me.
Also, I went into this novel expecting something rather romantic. Maybe not romantic in the sense of amorous relationships, but romantic in the more general sense. I was wrong. This novel presents a pretty pessimistic view of the world, people, and especially love. Lim seems especially critical of Polly’s inherent optimism, criticizing it as foolish. In the end, it clashed so strongly with my own world-view that I wasn’t able to enjoy the novel as much as I had hoped.
Perhaps if I had gone in knowing this would be what it was, rather than expecting the complete opposite, I might have enjoyed it better.
So, yes, I still highly recommend An Ocean of Minutes to dystopian lovers. It’s so good, and so original, and so exquisitely written.