In The Sisters Sputnik: A Novel, Terri Favro continues the storyline started in Sputnik’s Children. As was the case in the earlier book, The Sisters Sputnik is told from the viewpoint of protagonist Debbie Reynolds Biondi.
One of the key concepts in both books is the existence of over 2,000 alternate realities. Parallel to the Earth we know, referred to in Favro’s novels as Earth Standard Time, each of these alternate realities was sparked by a nuclear detonation here on our version of Earth. Debbie herself was born in Atomic Mean Time, a world in which an Atomic War of Deterrence proved to be a less-than-brilliant strategy.
The Sisters Sputnik opens in 2029, with Debbie and her intern Ariel Bajinder Hassan, also known as Unicorn Girl, travelling as itinerant storytellers in Co-Ordinated Zeroth Time, or Cozy Time for short. Debbie and Unicorn Girl are accompanied on this mission by Cassandra, an AI.
Debbie and Unicorn Girl are seeking the home of their designated host for the night. When they finally arrive, Debbie discovers, to her surprise, that their host is her ex-lover David, who she met in New Rome four years prior. Debbie then spends the night telling David a story that covers the events of the past few years.
In Sputnik’s Children, Debbie rescued the inhabitants of Atomic Mean Time, pulling them through to Earth Standard Time before nuclear escalation resulted in the desecration of their world. Most people, once they transferred through, were absorbed into the version of themselves that existed in Earth Standard Time. Debbie wasn’t so lucky. The Earth Standard Time version of her died at age 12, during a tonsillectomy. As a result, Debbie is an undocumented time traveller in Earth Standard Time and must resort to using fake identification. Fortunately, she has an income source in the form of her comic strip, Sputnik Chick: Girl With No Past.
Relocating to Earth Standard Time resulted in other trade-offs. As an example, Debbie’s husband from Atomic Mean Time, John Kendal, is now Prime Minister of Canada, which is good, but married to someone else, which is bad. To make matters worse, Debbie’s latest visit to Doc Mutant, who specializes in treating the physical effects of quantum travel, has resulted in a diagnosis of acute time-sickness. Debbie isn’t given long to live, and Doc Mutant encourages her to limit her universe-hopping. Unfortunately for Debbie, that’s a tough thing to do, since her body has a tendency to leak into other timelines.
Like Sputnik’s Children, The Sisters Sputnik has much to offer. We see glimpses of our own world, both nostalgic, with the appearance of characters like Frank Sinatra, and chilling, as we see what the future might become. There are inventive constructs like robotic chefs tended to by a sub-culture of young people who call themselves “junksters,” and the existence of a wormhole at the base of Niagara Falls. Fort Lee, New Jersey has the world’s large community of migrants from alternate timelines, and quantum jumping, as of 2025, is a common pastime.
Favro provides a racially and ethnically diverse cast of characters. While some are new, others, including the spirited Nonna Peppy, appeared in Sputnik’s Children. Debbie’s long-friend, Pasquale “Bum Bum” Pesce, is now her business manager, while one of my favourite characters, an eccentric motorcycle-riding genius named Dr. Benjamin Duffy, shows up for a brief encore.
While Sputnik’s Children dealt mainly with the threat of nuclear escalation, the events of The Sisters Sputnik explore prejudice and bigotry. Debbie is partly responsible for unleashing an evil on the world when she opens Pandora’s Box by revisiting an old comic book titled The Adventures of Futureman. This comic features the racist ramblings of Dr. Norman Guenther, who becomes obsessed with the notion of sending immigrants and their descendants “back where they came from.” The actual mechanism for doing so is metaphorically logical, perhaps, but also somewhat ridiculous, adding a satirical bent to the proceedings.
Ingenious, smoothly written, and funny, at times bitingly so, The Sisters Sputnik is well worth a read. The novel is a worthy sequel to its predecessor, although it has a darker feel than Sputnik’s Children. Favro provides an adequate back story at the outset of The Sisters Sputnik to allow readers who haven’t read Sputnik’s Children to follow the story. However, if the premise sounds interesting, I’d suggest starting with Sputnik’s Children to get full value for the reading experience.
Raised in Niagara wine country, Terri Favro grew up with an electrician father who worked with the first factory robot and built his own robots at home. The experience fueled Favro’s lifelong love of science fiction, comic books, and space exploration. A novelist, storyteller, essayist, and graphic novel writer, Favro is also an award-winning advertising copywriter who worked on campaigns for emerging technologies that changed the world. Terri lives in Toronto.
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