‘Side Life’ Review

A wild journey through infinite possible realities, Side Life will leave you reeling, contemplating the existence of reality and the many ways your life could have turned out differently.

It starts with a simple enough story and ends as a warped and twisted take on life and the reality of this man who no longer knows who or where he is within the fabric of the universe. It’s a truly thought-provoking, mind-blowing set of circumstances, journeys, and revelations that will leave you feeling a bit out of sorts with the infinite expanse of time and its possibilities.

Unfortunately, I feel like it’s impossible to discuss this book without spoiling central plot points. It’s a fascinating read and you should definitely add it to your list if you want to dive into a deep, philosophical discussion about the world and your place in it. For those of you wanting to know more, trek beyond the robot…

THE TECHNOLOGY

The primary technology sits hidden in a basement with nothing but a small notebook to guide the user. There is no guide, nothing to really help the main character understand what he’s doing. It’s an astounding piece of technology that uses the fabric of time, space, and infinite realities in order to shape the reality waiting for the user on the other side of their trip. I’ve read a few alternate reality books, and this was unique because it sent the person right back into themselves, unaware of the person that had been before they entered the tube. He took every memory and experience with him, much to the detriment of his attempts to discover the person he was becoming. The device was complex and difficult to fully comprehend, which made for some great science fiction.

THE MYSTERY OF IT ALL

It’s a science fiction novel with a bit of mystery/thriller thrown in. The complexities of the machine are presented one by one, starting with the appearance of a cat, just one in a series of crazy changes that toy with the main character’s life. There are mysterious notebooks with notes that never change, computers with passwords that reveal different details about the machine he’s decided to use without full knowledge of its effects. There are cryptic drawing peppered throughout the novel that add to the mystery and, at times, to the horror of what’s happening to this unsuspecting man. It felt a bit like a treasure hunt, and there was no way of knowing what would be around the next corner.


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THE ALTERNATE STORIES

The stories of these hosts (for lack of a better word) are meticulously crafted, bordering between delightful and terrifying. We see Winston Churchill, we see a few war-ravaged men, we see foragers and hunters of the past and super soldiers of the future. There are so many different lives packed into this single narrative, and it’s a daunting task to dissasemble their complex influences on the plot. Their memories and actions stay with him, becoming a part of him so that by the end, he’s a conglomeration of so many different times, places and experiences that he barely knows who he is anymore. I’m amazed at the author’s ability to deftly switch between narratives with clarity.

THE IMPLICATIONS ON OUR OWN LIVES

If you start thinking too much about the deeper messages of the novel, you can lose yourself a bit. You start to think about the infinite versions of yourself, the many different ways your life could have played out had you taken a right instead of a left, had you said hello instead of stared shyly at the floor. The author raises questions about what it is to exist and what that could possibly mean. The book makes you doubt your current reality, to look at the pieces and strings holding it together.

Needless to say, I spent a couple of hours trying to wrap my head around everything. It’s very rare that a book has this much of an impact on me.

THE CHARACTER DEPTH

We see the main character’s deepest fears and desires play out unabashedly, as he desperately tries to find a version of his life that he’s happy with, where everything aligns and he can be the best version of himself. Of course, that possibility is one in an infinite amount of possibilities and he never fully gets there. There are so many factors to consider here, especially when you add in the ability of others to travel through the device and alter his reality. It’s constantly a mess and he can never go back. His feelings are strewn about the page and by the end, I felt wrapped up in his narrative, experiencing the heartbreak and the longing to get back to a daughter that would never exist again.

Side Life
By Steve Toutonghi
Published by Soho Press, Inc.

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Photo by Vladimir Kramer on Unsplash

Author: Jacob A. Olson

Writing about science fiction and fantasy at ReviewsandRobots.com! I write reviews on novels, short stories, television, movies, etc. and throw in a few articles and thoughts as well.

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