Expect Me Tomorrow
By Christopher Priest
I am at an age where I genuinely believe that Science Fiction is the best genre there is and I have read enough books of all types to have developed this opinion. I love it because it can be so many different things. Space opera to speculative fiction. A Sci Fi book can also be a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. What is Expect Me Tomorrow by Christopher Priest? Is it a time travel story, a work of literary fiction, an exploration of climate change, a book about injustice, or a book about family? It is all these things and more.
In the 19th century a pair of twins are born; Adler and Adolf. One goes on to become an expert in glaciers and climate, the other takes on the alias John Smith and is arrested several times for being a conman. Over 100 years later another set of twins are born into the same family, Charles and Greg. Somehow over this expanse of time these duos are connected. Could this be an explanation for why Adler and Dolf have heard strange voices all their lives?
I do not like to read the synopsis of books before starting as I have been burnt in the past. The back of a book can tell you far too much. Therefore, I was not prepared for what I would find in Expect, one of the most enigmatic books that I have read in a long time. Its structure alone makes the book a mystery. A story told over two timeframes, some of which are based in historic fact, with three sets of characters. The two sets of twins, but also the mysterious John Smith. It is not until later in the book that the relationship between these characters starts to be revealed.
Expect is a character study as much as it is a science fiction novel. The main brothers we follow are one from each set of twins, Adler and Charles. They have a connection that is explained in the book. In the case of Adler, we follow him through most of his life from the early days exploring the glaciers with his father, to his last days as an academic warning about the future of the climate. In 2050 Charles is living in this future. Hastings is near abandoned as the sea has reclaimed large parts of the lower town. Through Charles we learn about the world of 2050, a world that Adler had predicted would happen some 150 plus years earlier.
The links between the characters is more than just blood and an interest in climate. This being science fiction, there is an element that allows them to comminate across time. The way that Priest writes this adds to the pacing of the story. It is not a perfect connection and for a large part of their lives both Adler and Dorf believed themselves to have mental health issues. It is a subtle use of fantastic elements that does not distract from the important exploration of the ongoing climate catastrophe.
There are no answers in Expect and the book does not really have any true ending. Charles cannot affect the past as it has already happened, so the book is more of an exploration of characters and what is happening to the world. The case of John Smith acts as both a red herring in places, but also a fundamental element of character development. Priest blends what is real with the fictional. Adolf Beck existed, and his case became an important moment in criminal law. The year 2050 does not exist yet, but Priest makes it feel like it does. This is a nuanced and intelligent novel that will have the reader questioning everything. Not a book for fans of action and thrills, but for those that like an intelligent and interesting story.
Written on 21st September 2022 by Sam Tyler .