Cover image of "Branches," a novel about a journey through the multiverse

There are two possibilities here. Either this is, as the book’s cover suggests, a science fiction tale about a man caught in an endless loop through innumerable possible timelines in the multiverse. Or it’s a story of a man having a nervous breakdown. Journey through the multiverse? Nervous breakdown? I’m not sure there’s any meaningful difference. And, after reading the book, I don’t especially care. The story fails as science fiction, grounded as it is on an absurd premise no self-respecting author in the genre would ever dare to use.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

A laughable premise

Don’t believe me? Try this on for size. At age 38, the unnamed man who is the book’s protagonist begins having occasional seizures. Why? Because a parasite has infected his brain and somehow propels him through a succession of parallel worlds, each of them different in ways that may be either big or small. And to stop the process, he must take a series of pills over the course of a week to weaken and then kill the parasite. A parasite triggering a journey through the multiverse? Who could possibly take that seriously?

Branches by Adam Peter Johnson (2020) 251 pages ★★★☆☆

Artist's rendering of parallel worlds like those in this journey through the multiverse
Most depictions of the multiverse imagine discrete worlds like those in this image. However, as you can see on the cover of this novel, the author instead portrays them as infinitely branching timelines. Image: Big Think

Donald Trump is the culprit

So, what’s really going on here? Truth to tell, Donald Trump has driven this man totally round the bend. Yes, he’s having a nervous breakdown fantasizing about the fascist state the President will inevitably inaugurate when he’s reelected. Oh, Trump is never named in the novel. He’s identified only as “He” and “Him” with a capital H.

So, even if Adam Peter Johnson never intended to suggest his protagonist is nuts, it’s pretty clear he is no matter what the sci-fi window-dressing. Because in several of the innumerable timelines he visits, “He” has opened concentration camps for “radicals” and unleashed cops and soldiers to harass and even kill African-Americans and others “He” views as undesirable. Many of us Americans may well have had nightmares of this sort. But they’re nightmares, not reality. Not a journey through the multiverse. And any sober assessment of the likely outcome of a continued surge to the Right is likely to conclude that such scenes are unlikely. Possible, perhaps. But unlikely. After all, things are crazy enough these days, no? And, given the mounting climate catastrophe, we’ve got worse things to worry about.

About the author

Photo of Adam Peter Johnson, author of this novel about a journey through the multiverse

Adam Peter Johnson‘s bio on Amazon reads in full: “Adam Peter Johnson lives in Minnesota with his wife, son and golden basset. Before becoming an author, he worked as a newspaper reporter and editor in the United States and Australia. He’s drawn to science fiction stories that serve as funhouse mirrors for everyday life. Every time travel story is really a story about regret. Every dystopian tale is really about the here and now.”

For a much better novel about the multiverse, see Infinity Gate (Pandominion #1) by M. R. Carey (War in the multiverse is about to begin).

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