Novikov Windows by Chris Cosmain

Novikov Windows: A Time Travel Novel by Chris Cosmain

How do you make impossible decisions in a universe without choices?

I promised you a live review of Chris Cosmain’s Novikov Windows, but first this ‘starter’ to get myself and my notes up to speed! (Actually, that’s up to Chapter 6)

Novikov Windows by Chris Cosmain
Novikov Windows by Chris Cosmain.

But before that, first things first…what’s a “Novikov window”? I googled it and only came up with loads of mentions about this book. So I guess we’ll need to wait before we find out, and in the meantime, know that this first thing isn’t first!

Chris tells us on his website that he writes psychological hard science fiction – so Novikov Windows has all the promise of a brilliant time travel novel, especially with the foreknowledge that Chris has discussed a number of time travel elements and paradoxes with Paul Levinson – which means there’s something interesting to talk about within these pages!

(As a brief aside, check out Paul’s “Slipping Time” which you can read here for free! 🙂 )

But back to Novikov Windows! Let’s have a look, and jump first into the time travel!

Time travel in Novikov Windows

The time travel element in Novikov Windows is introduced quickly. This is truer than you might think because in a sense the time travel element pre-exists – time travelers from 2012 go back in time to 1996 and bring the time travel technology with them.

We’re faced straight away with the ontological paradox, or the information loop, because the time travel technology itself has no clear origin. Chris deals with this nicely; time travel technology isn’t simply brought in as is, but as a technology that needs rediscovery. Albeit with the foreknowledge that in time, it will work! 😉

Rediscovery, or perhaps (re)invention, avoids the tedium of repetition (think of Phil’s frustration in Groundhog Day). It makes the introduction to time travel and its mechanism something fresh and new as the characters learn progressively more about it. Indeed, there’s a sense of both excitement (understandable!) and realism here (“Einstein’s work showed time travel within one timeline is possible”) as information relating to it is sifted through files and notes on a futuristic fractal file directory system (nice idea!).

Time travel mechanics

The bottom line of time travel in Novikov Windows is similar to Star Trek teleportation; objects and people are disassembled in their present, and reassembled atom by atom in the past.

In this form of time travel, multiple versions of time travelers at the same time is avoided because the present version is disassembled. Although this sounds painful, it’s a good thing; meeting yourself on a single time line can lead to all kinds of grandfather paradoxes.

So no problem here with paradoxes, but there may be with the nature of teleportation. Although the teleportation is temporal rather than spatial, I wonder if it’s still susceptible to the occasional hiccups Star Trek’s beamers had, or the freak show in the 1986 movie The Fly. Further reading will enlighten me!

Teleportation pod in The Fly.
“It mated us, me and the fly. We hadn’t even been properly introduced.” Coming out of the teleportation pod in The Fly.
(Image credit:

Relatively absolute

Another possible difficulty with reconstruction is with the spatial component – where will time travelers end up after they’ve teleported through time? It’s an issue often dwelled on. Is location relative to your original location on Earth, or is it absolute and needs Earth’s movement through space accounted for? How is rematerialising inside an object that’s moved to a temporal destination avoided?

From memory, Nathan van Coop’s The Chronothon had a way of accounting for this. But I’m a bit more worried about Novikov Windows because it seems the spatial arrival point isn’t very precise. In the beginning chapters, 2 time travelers, Aaron and David, travel from 2012 to 1996. They each arrive in coffin-like boxes that need to be transported to a facility. David’s ‘coffin’ needed lugging from several kilometers away; Aaron’s turned up closer.

Ah yes. And they rematerialised in the past in space, then made their way down to Earth.

Time travel tech.

Mapping the location and arranging each atom takes a huge amount of computing power. For this, quantum computers that use “qubicubes” as processing units are used, and artificial DNA that has one more letter (nucleotide base?) than natural DNA is used to store the vast quantities of data.

As well as astronomically high computing power and storage needs, time travel requires energy. A lot – and this is sourced directly from the Sun. Interestingly enough, this is made possible thanks to wormholes which extract the required energy – an odd twist to the more common idea that wormholes themselves can be used for time travel!

I love that there’s no black box with the application of the time travel methodology, and that it’s even backed up with science too! But there’s something niggling me…

It’s still life…

Many time travel mechanism differentiate between transporting organic matter and inanimate objects through time, usually favouring one over the other. It’s baffled me.

Avoiding the philosophical nature of Life, what’s the difference between a DNA molecule, for example, and some other complex molecular structure? Yet we frequently hear of time travelers arriving naked because their clothes can’t travel in time. (This begs the question: how do inanimate time machines travel through time?) Or conversely, that organic matter arrives as a squidgy jelly-like mass.

Time travelers in Novikov Windows also don’t time travel with their clothes, but Chris gives them a little bit of dignity; they wear body suits made of pure woven tin that demarcates their body for scanning.

I’m not convinced this demarcation would work because the suit would need to be tight on a molecular level; perhaps spray painting would be better, but to be honest I’m picking hairs here! Still, whilst Chris’ time travellers don’t have the full dignity of a Star Fleet commanding officer in a Star Trek transporter, they have a lot more than Seth Brundle, or indeed, the Brundlefly!

Taking it apart

If a time traveller is placed in time through reconstruction, I’m not clear why the destination can only be in the past; why can’t they be reconstructed in the future? It’s usual to cite time technology needs to exist at the destination time – in which case jumping into the future makes more sense than going into the past. But in Novikov Windows the time travel technology does exist in the past (it’s sent) but needs reinventing. This doesn’t rule out time travel into the future so I’m perplexed!

Time travel ideas

Why can’t I remember the future?”

Teleportation, when there’s reconstruction in space or time, brings the question “Is it still me?”. Atoms aren’t moved, they’re replicated and reproduced as exact copies, thanks to the transmission of (scanned) information.

In Star Trek (spatial teleportation) there is no loss of personal memory when a space traveller beams from one location to another. (Now I come to think of it, beam technology doesn’t need to exist at the destination…). But time traveller Aaron is dazed and confused on his arrival into the past. Chris has a brilliant explanation for this; “Memory is superimposed on reality” so Aaron experiences life with blurred memories, or like a déjà vu. He takes drugs that suppress his future memories to reduce this unpleasant feeling.

Aaron muses on his ability to remember how to speak and walk etc. yet has confusion about his past and lacks his previous skills (for example, in directing the time travel facility). He wonders whether he is useful. And here’s the cool thing – history says he is! so he’s kept on and taught (reminded?) how to build the time travel facility. It’s a self-fulfilling paradox!

Single time line

Well, there it is – there’s just one time line in Novikov Windows. I like this because it removes the possibility of taking the easy way out of paradoxes – Hey you know what guys, all this complicated stuff happened to another version of me on another time line (*Growl*).

With a fixed time line what has happened has happened. And so has the future because as seen from another point further in the future, the future is in the past and has already happened.

“How do you make impossible decisions in a universe without choices?” – Novikov Windows (Chris Cosmain)

One might argue that if the past and future have already happened, then time travel is not possible because the addition of a time traveller is changing what has already happened. Indeed, Novikov Windows argues that “we live in a deterministic universe where there is no possibility of an event ever being changed” which effectively removes the idea of free will. (Hence the novel’s tagline.)

This means that destiny already accounts for the presence and actions of time travellers’ history / future – as Aaron accepted!

Time travel psychology

This is a theme which I’m hoping will make Novikov Windows stand out from other time travel novels.

Dramatic irony

Until the end of Chapter 5 we’re subjected to a lot of Aaron’s misgivings about time travel. His introspective and analytical look at himself is, I must admit, quite realistic in the sense that I suspect I’d follow his same line of reasoning. But it also pains me to say I find him annoying and irritating! He’s time travelled. He’s seen amazing technology and had things explained and shown to him. He’s had proofs and patience from the people around him – yet it takes him so long to accept time travel is real and move on!

Admittedly this is easy for us as readers of a known time travel book to accept; we know something that the characters such as Aaron don’t. And we could say Aaron’s response is more realistic than a character who’s up to speed from the outset. But I suppose I’m looking for an escape from this realism – albeit one that’s got a good douse of science behind it!

Meanwhile we wait until page 71 (that’s > 15% of the novel) for Aaron to get a grip.


Perhaps on a similar realism footing, I noticed a couple of times where characters took stock of other people’s thoughts and feelings which I think would have been missed in other novels. These might be teasers into some psychology that might come later in the novel. I’ll see!

Schrodinger’s Coin

A single coin exists twice – one is in the present and the other has been brought back to the present from the future. This is used to prove the reality of time travel to a character – and it needs a separate section!

“I can’t be in 2 places at the same time!” – every overworked employee.

“Try time travel.” – sympathetic colleague.

I often complain about multiverses and multiple time lines because each one means a creation of matter. But we have an apparent creation of matter here too; the coin is doubled up. (This assumes instantaneous transport from Time Z in the future to Time A in the past; if it went through intermediate ‘alphabetic’ times then there would be intermediate versions of the matter.)

So time travel goes against the notion that something (including people!) can’t be in 2 places at 1 time. It got me thinking about something slightly similar – an object that exists in multiple times but in the same place. (Effectively, this is everything that doesn’t move spatially for a given amount of time.) As time progresses, is it the same object that follows time, or is it an infinitesimal number of copies, created as each new moment in time is created?

Wait…did I say “created”?

The way around this is Eternalism where all times co-exist simultaneously, so there’s no transition from one point in time to another. But I’m curious if co-existing is the same as superimposing. In the first case there’s one object; more copies of it in the latter.

The argument for multiverses is that all options co-exist – so there’s no actual creation of matter, just a different view of it. And that’s what we see with the coin.

I guess I’m turning into a multiverse convert! “Turning”? Maybe you’re now reading from a different version of me from a different universe than the one who started writing!

Back to the book!

A couple of brilliant lines from the novel before we go to the more usual reviewy kinda stuff.

“Technology from future brought to the past and operated by a genius who’s ahead of his time!”

“That’s a question for another time.”

Writing style

The novel starts with a Japanese folktale and I’m gripped!. But is it fair to be pulled along by another story? I think so! It’s written (as far as I can tell) in Chris’ own words, and the writing blends seamlessly into the main narrative when the folktale reaches its conclusion. It’s brilliantly done!

Chris shows a unique flair with his written word, showing not telling (“His outrage echoes off the damp walls around him.”) and plenty of imagery (e.g. “The younger man has immersed himself in all this information like a dust-blown nomad diving into a water hole.”).

And you’ll note Novikov Windows is written in the present tense. I find this engages me more than when I read in the traditional past tense because it makes the novel more active. I must admit that sometimes I find it quite exhausting (especially coupled with some lengthy dialogue exploring all kinds of time travel ideas) – but this could well be that I’m not used to reading in this tense!

Something about the writing that strikes me is how well Chris changes the point of view of narration from one character to another. This is quite a common tool authors use to provide the reader with information that one character would know and not another, but the technique is used more fully here because the information now includes a deeper attention to the character’s thoughts about the other character or the situation they face.

Whats in a name?

I struggle with the location names.

Names of places like “Blackwells Rest”, “The Pit” and “Big Shed” make me think of shanty towns and dusty deserts where old bearded men sit on wooden rocking chairs with a pipe and scowl at anything moving that isn’t a tumbleweed. It’s a purely subjective feeling, but I’m yanked right out of scifi mode.

Is it important? Probably not; a place can’t choose its name – and in some ways, I suppose authors must honour this in their world building.

Live review

I’m enjoying the read! And with 31 chapters to go I’m far from finished! I’ll type up my further thoughts as I go along in my pseudo-live review – see you there!


If you enjoyed this post why not sign up to receive future posts sent direct to your email!

You might also like to visit or like time2timetravel on Facebook.

What do you think? Leave a Reply! :)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.