Review: -100 by Jonathan Maas

Just finished this book this weekend: -100: A Time-travel Horror Romance.

All in all, I really enjoyed this story, and I’ll likely explore other stuff that Jonathan Maas writes. I found three tiny possible typos, so if the author stumbles on this review, email me ([email protected]) and I’ll send them over.

What I liked

  • The story is written cleverly. The first section starts on day 50 and centers on Kela’s point of view, and then each subsequent chapter covers a day before the previous chapter. So the reader reads in reverse order. Then the second section, which is much more detailed, starts at the beginning, on day 1, and then goes forward, and centers on Adam’s point of view.

  • Science fiction authors have spent a ton of words on the logistics of time travel. This book doesn’t spend too much time laying out the rules of how it works in this scenario, and I was grateful for that. I really enjoyed how this book had an idea I hadn’t heard about before: they figure out how to send your own thoughts back in time, so you get a message from your future self.

  • I really liked how sparse the whole story was. Nearly the entire story happens in Adam’s apartment, when he and Kela are alone. There are a few scenes elsewhere, but they also only have two or three people.

    I read that the writer, Jonathan Maas, is working on making this into a film, and I think the small number of locations would help with that. A team could film almost the whole story in one or two locations.

  • Related to how sparse and minimal and stripped down the whole story is, I love how there were no pyrotechnics in the story. Like, in the time travel scenes, there was never any blue flame, lightning bolts, ear-splitting roars, etc. Instead, when Kela describes to Adam the cosmic horrors waiting for us all at the end of time, it works better, because the reader fills in with their own imagination. I love it when science fiction focuses more on drama and less on spectacle.

What I wasn’t thrilled about

  • Kela’s character is a “once in a lifetime genius” according to her colleague Raj. And, of course, she is also completely aloof and oblivious to social graces. This is such a god damn science fiction cliche! It reminds me of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, that blonde chick from those awful “Species” movies, Valentine Michael Smith (the guy from Mars) in Stranger in a Strange Land, etc, etc, etc.

  • The plot line set up several mysteries, and then drops hints and clues along the way, but ultimately, the hints and clues don’t really resolve the mysteries. For example, I’m not really satisfied with the explanations of what forces drive Kela to such unearthly rage. Also, throughout the plot lines, when Kela enters these fugue states, she ofte carves bizarre glyphs. Adam studies them, and meets a few times with a symbols expert. But in the end, they don’t turn out to resolve anything. Other than setting a mood, they could have been cut out of the plot entirely.

Random thoughts

  • The title of this is literally “-100: A Time Travel Horror Romance”. I suspect this is some kind of way of describing / tagging / encoding what this book is about, so that people that see the title online in a long list of titles might be drawn to it more. Is an interesting way that art and commerce intersect and affect each other.

  • Ultimately, after finishing the story, I really wanted a ton more. Kela apparently discovers some existential horror out there in the cosmos so terrifying she decides that existence is a terrible idea. And then she backs away from this state of mind, and uses her technology to help Adam’s dad.

    This all feels like the end of the first act, rather than a story in itself. I wonder if there is more coming.