From robots to mobile phones to self-driving cars, science fiction stories have often predicted the future. Which bodes well for the hospitality industry, since writer Rob Hart has just predicted time travel luxury hotels in his new romantic sci-fi novel The Paradox Hotel (hardcover, Kindle, audiobook). Well, except that, as he and I discuss in the following email interview about Paradox, this story starts with a murder…
Photo Credit: Michael McWeeney
To start, what is The Paradox Hotel about, and when and where is it set?
The Paradox Hotel is set in a future where time travel has become a tourism industry for the super-rich, and before they embark on their trips to the past, they stay at the Paradox. It’s about the head of security, January Cole, who finds a corpse that only she can see, and she has to figure out if it’s a real murder she needs to prevent, or a function of her declining mental state.
The book is about a lot of things — such as grief, facing yourself, and found family — but it also has robots and dinosaurs, because if I’m going to write about time travel, I’m going to have fun with it, too.
I would hope so. So, what inspired this story?
Years ago, I was at Sleep No More, an interactive theater experience in New York, where the audience members wear masks, and are invited to wander a large space following a version of MacBeth that takes place in various locations around what’s supposed to be a hotel — but you might find yourself in the woods, or a graveyard, or a psych ward. It’s very cool and very creepy and I got struck with this idea: What if there was a hotel where you could enter a room and it was five minutes later, or ten minutes ago? I went home and opened a Google Doc and wrote “time travel hotel.” And it sat there for months until the idea slowly came together.
And is there a reason it’s The Paradox Hotel and not The Paradox Motel or The Paradox Bed & Breakfast or The Paradox Airbnb? Or maybe the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver?
In this world, time travel is a playground for the mega-rich. Which tracks, right? If we invented time travel it’d probably be massively expensive, and I imagine it would quickly turn into a tourism industry, sort of like what’s happening with private investment in space travel. So if the mega-rich are traveling through time, of course they’re going to stay in a five-star hotel while they wait for their trips to depart. And, anything I write is going to delve into class issues, and this was a great way to do that. Because you go to a luxury hotel, and the differences between the clientele and the staff is generally very clear.
I mentioned the Trump Hotel because as I was working on these questions it came out that the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver would be rebranded as The Paradox Hotel. What’s the funniest comment your friends made when they heard the news?
A lot of people got mad at me because I guess I’ve developed this habit of prognosticating with my books? The Warehouse imagined a world where one company took over the entire online retail economy, and a lot of the stuff I made up for the book ended up coming true, especially during the pandemic. So when the news of the hotel landed, one person on Twitter was like, “Please, stop it.” I told my marketing team I’d write a novel about all of us winning the lottery.
As for your novel, it sounds like The Paradox Hotel is a time travel sci-fi thriller / murder mystery. Is that how you’d describe it?
It’s a romance, too. I think it’s the most romantic book I’ve ever written.
It’s also not your first novel. Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on the The Paradox Hotel but not on anything else you’ve written?
Blake Crouch’s Recursion was a big influence on this one — the way he told a very personal human story about grief mixed with big sci-fi ideas. And Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. Probably a little Lightning by Dean Koontz, too, which was probably the first time travel novel I ever read.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games? Did any of those things have a particularly big influence on The Paradox Hotel? You mentioned that interactive theater experience…
Sleep No More was the biggest, for sure. I re-watched a lot of time travel movies in preparation, like Timecop and Primer. Lost was a big influence on me, too. I remember when the fourth season turned into a time travel thing and it just blew me away. But also: The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bad Times At The El Royale… I loved the idea of writing something within the closed container of a hotel and it was fun to get some visual inspiration for that.
Speaking of time travel movies, when you were deciding how time travel would work in The Paradox Hotel, how did you come to follow the rules you followed, and what were your main sources of inspiration? Because they made an interesting argument about this stuff in Avengers: Endgame…
That was part of the challenge. I knew I wanted to write time travel, but I wanted to write my own version of it. I watched a lot of movies and read a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction, and just built out the mechanics in a way that worked for both me and the story. I really enjoyed Time Travel: A History by James Gleik. But I was also looking for places where physics intertwined with Eastern philosophy and I got a lot out of The Present Moment: A Retreat On The Practice Of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Now, as you know, time travel stories, sci-fi novels, thrillers, and murder mysteries — romantic and otherwise — are sometimes stand-alone stories and sometimes they’re part of a larger saga. What is The Paradox Hotel?
At first I thought it was a stand-alone. I wrote a five-book series years ago and as much as I loved it, with The Warehouse I came to appreciate building a big sandbox, blowing it up, and walking away. And with Paradox, I really thought that with where the story ended, I couldn’t actually spin out another story. But just recently I got smacked upside the head with an idea for a sequel, and the people I’ve run it past have responded very enthusiastically. So…maybe. It’ll depend on a lot of things, including how this first book does.
Can you tell us anything about the sequel?
If I do write the sequel, I think it’ll be called The Paradox Loop. And I may only write one sequel, but then again, I thought I was only going to write one book in this series, so who knows…
Earlier I asked if The Paradox Hotel had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, or games. But I’d like to flip things around, if I may, and ask you if you think The Paradox Hotel could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think it would make a killer TV show….so it’s very exciting that the book was optioned for TV by Working Title. They’re currently in the process of putting together a pilot, which is being written by Jacob Chase, who wrote and directed Come Play. We’ve had a lot of productive conversations and I’m really excited to see how it shakes out.
Cool, congrats. Now, this won’t happen, but if the producers break protocol and ask you for casting ideas, who would you suggest for the main characters?
Since it’s currently optioned I’d rather not say, only because we’ve already thrown out some potential names for some of the roles, and I don’t want to muddy the waters. I will say that every suggestion they’ve had has been spot on.
So, is there anything else you think someone interested in The Paradox Hotel should know before deciding to buy it or not?
I know some people think time travel sci-fi and their brain goes screwy — that it might be too complicated to follow or something. My goal with stuff like this is to boil it down and make it familiar. I don’t want to write a book that takes a degree in quantum physics to get. Also: there are robots and dinosaurs, and how could you say no to that?
Finally, if someone enjoys The Paradox Hotel, what sci-fi thriller involving time travel of someone else’s would you suggest they read next and why that one?
Recursion by Blake Crouch is a good bet. Also: Yesterday Is History by Kosoko Jackson, which is a really sweet time travel story that presents the whole concept in a new and unique light. I really enjoyed it.