America is in the grip of a deadly flu. When Frank gets sick, his girlfriend Polly will do whatever it takes to save him. 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.
An epidemic dystopia with time travel? I’m there! Like much good sci-fi Lim uses the fantastical premise to examine the world we live in and let me tell you, it hits ya right in the chest.
The story is harrowing – Polly goes into the future as an indentured servant to pay for the medicine that will save her boyfriend’s life. They agree to meet when she pops out 12 years later… but she ends up jumping 17 years instead. Oops. Is Frank waiting for her? And what has become of the world?
I don’t want to give away plot, but I will say that this book speaks viscerally about the refugee experience. Instead of escaping an awful place, as many people are trying to do today, Polly escapes an awful time. Due to the one-way nature of time travel the can’t be “deported” to where she came from, and this lowest of statuses means she’s treated as horribly as you would expect.
Each injustice can be traced to something happening in the world right now, breaking my heart on the regular. I would put the book down for a while but I always came back to see how Polly gets through, and what’s waiting on the other side.
There are moments of hope but it’s not a feel good read, so know that things get worse – a lot worse – before they get better. That plot drives the book. Lim writes some beautiful passages, making language the second biggest slice of the “doorway” chart, and the setting has stuck in my mind. We rarely follow a character for long, though, and while they feel real in a moment I can’t say they develop, quite. They’re more likely to turn in an unexpected direction instead.
In sum, An Ocean of Minutes is a heckuva story that examines current issues through the lens of speculative fiction. I’m curious to see if it grows in my memory in the months ahead.
Thanks to Touchstone and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.