A Quantum Love Story by Mike Chen
The only thing harder than finding someone in a time loop is losing them.
Grieving her best friend's recent death, neuroscientist Mariana Pineda’s ready to give up everything to start anew. Even her career—after one last week consulting at a top secret particle accelerator.
Except the strangest thing happens: a man stops her…and claims they've met before. Carter Cho knows who she is, why she's mourning, why she's there. And he needs Mariana to remember everything he’s saying.
Because time is about to loop.
In a flash of energy, it’s Monday morning. Again. Together, Mariana and Carter enter an inevitable life, four days at a time, over and over, without permanence except for what they share.
But just as they figure out this new life, everything changes. Because Carter's memories of the time loop are slowly disappearing. And their only chance at happiness is breaking out of the loop—forever.
LENGTH: 352 pages
GENRE: Science Fiction
Queer Rep Summary: No canon queer rep.
*I received a free review copy in exchange for an honest review of this book.
I love time loop stories. One of my favorite things is that they’ve been around for long enough that authors can play with the conventions of an established genre. A QUANTUM LOVE STORY does this to fantastic effect, using memory, food, and a plausible but loose edition of quantum mechanics to build a story of two people trying to escape a time loop. It’s about grief, sacrifice, and care for oneself and others. There’s an emphasis on the importance of fully inhabiting moments. Not every single one, necessarily, but learning to regularly take the time to enjoy food as more than fuel, learn new things, and appreciate small interactions.
Because the story starts from Carter’s perspective, and then switches to Mariana, pretty early on, I thought it first that the point of view would switch back-and-forth between them. Instead, most of the book is from Mariana's perspective. With Carter as the more personally spontaneous one, indulging his love of good food as his bank account resets with each loop, staying in Mariana’s perspective means that we see her growing appreciation for the way Carter surprises her, and how he chooses to cultivate moments of calm and enjoyment in stressful circumstances that seem like they’ll never end. I like the way they strategize through the iterations, figuring out how to keep their research progress across the loops, using the only seemingly durable resource they have, Carter’s eidetic memory, and Mariana’s less precise but scientifically enhanced recall.
There’s a turning point where Carter’s memory stops helping them, and Mariana has to make the most of her time with him before, eventually, a loop starts where he has no idea who she is and she must figure out a solution to their problem on her own. I have a particular interest in stories where protagonists risk the possibility of their own non-existence in the course of trying to make things better. I don't just mean death, but the loss of other people's memories of who someone was and what they did. One of the staples of time loop stories as a genre is the frustration and futility of trying to convince those who don’t remember the loops that anything strange is happening at all. It creates this lopsided balance of access to information, where as the loops continue one person knows more and more about the other, but the non-looping person doesn’t get to reciprocate in a fully informed way. You can create an increasing sense of isolation as the closer the looper gets to someone in their life, the more intimate they feel about details that took a very long time for the other person to tell them. Having two people loop solves some of that, but the onset of memory loss means that eventually this imbalance happens anyway. It's made all the more poignant Carter and Mariana spent so long progressing as partners, with fairly symmetrical access to information once a few loops had happened where Mariana was up to speed. Having that intimacy and then losing it piles on grief and heartbreak, especially since Mariana was grieving her missing stepsister and best friend, Shay, who vanished several months ago and is presumed dead. The loop at first gave her time to process that loss in a way she hadn’t been able to before, but then it piles on new loss when Carter’s memory starts fading.
Narratively, I love the ending. It’s perfect for the story, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Emotionally, fuck you Mike Chen (appreciatively) for making me feel this much in this manner. You took one of my favorite sub-genres and added a masterwork to the canon. I look forward to how your next book inevitably shatters me in the best ways.
Graphic/Explicit CW for grief.
Moderate CW for cursing, animal death, death.
Minor CW for sexual content, abandonment, toxic relationship.