In the past few months, I was presented with not one but two new indie novels that incorporate hard-core theoretical physics into unconventional stories. Both authors are smart; both authors took chances. For me, one of the books worked. The other didn’t.
First, the success: Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese. (Enter giveaway below to win my copy!) From the back cover:
Paul Bayes has begun to feel like all of his actions are dictated by forces beyond his control. But when his suicide attempt is foiled by a mysterious young woman named Tali, Paul begins to wonder if the future is really as bleak as it seems. Tali possesses a strange power: the ability to predict tragedies and prevent them from happening. The possibility of breaking free from the grip of fate gives Paul hope. But when Tali disappears, Paul begins to realize that altering the future isn’t as easy as it seems: you can fight the future, but the future fights back.
I initially told the author I would not review Schrodinger’s Gat. I have so, so many books in my pile that “no” is my default answer. Yet something about this book nagged at me, and I read a few pages. I was hooked.
This slender, 200-page science fiction novel doesn’t fit in a tidy niche. It certainly has strong elements of both a mystery and a thriller, but it’s also full of lengthy asides on topics like quantum indeterminancy, the double slit experiment, Jainist ideas of karma, Newton and the Deists, Decartes and dualism, Skinner and behaviorism, Kant and Hume, and of course Schrodinger’s thought experiment about a cat in a box that has been poisoned (or not). Miraculously, these asides totally fit with the flow of the story. If you disagree, Kroese gives the reader an out: he has the narrator identify where certain intellectual excursions begin and end in the text to make them easy to skip.
I didn’t want to skip any of them. I totally enjoyed this strange, mind-twisting tale about cause and effect, free will, morality, and the nature of the universe. Sounds a little “out there,” I know, but Kroese tells a cracking good story along the way. His main instrument is the narrator he created. Schrodinger’s Gat is told in the first person present tense by a guy who is delightfully sarcastic. He’s messed up and suicidal but never comes off as pathetic. Because the narrator truly has nothing to lose, he is free to act without constraints. The novel is also set in San Francisco–always a bonus for me.
Is Schrodinger’s Gat a good choice for you? Read the opening and you’ll be able to tell. The profanity-laden narration has a distinctive feel that will either appeal or turn you off. Here are a few quotes from the novel to give you the flavor of the book:
“It’s complicated. And I don’t mean, like, Mah-Jongg complicated. I mean quantum physics complicated.”
“What we call probability is, I think, just a description of the proximity of alternate universes.”
“The idea of the space-time continuum actively rejecting paradoxes had occurred to us, but it was only an academic possibility.”
BTW: “Gat” is an old slang term for “gun.” Click here to read author Robert Kroese’s guest post talking about his book for ScienceThrillers.com.
If you like the logical conundrums in Schrodinger’s Gat, you might enjoy: Wired by Douglas Richards.
Time One tackles mankind’s most baffling question: How did the world begin? After challenging old thinking about forty-seven crucial scientific problems, Time One author Colin Gillespie solves forty-five of them and comes up with a strikingly simple answer to the most perplexing question of them all: How did the world begin?
Time One takes an iconoclastic look at contemporary physics, notably relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. It connects the dots across centuries of philosophy, literature and religion. It’s the ultimate mystery, and it takes a fictional detective to solve it. The protagonist—a beach bum—takes his cues not only from the likes of Aristotle, Newton and Einstein but also from Lewis Carroll, Raymond Chandler, Frank Herbert—and even Mariah Carey—among many others. And the most helpful if least likely source is the imaginary detective who becomes his sidekick. One of the book’s central (and most entertaining) premises is the detective’s use of science’s great stumbling blocks as clues to what happened before the Big Bang.
Get it? Not sure I do. I started reading this digital doorstopper of a book (over 500 pages in paper form). My first challenge was the Table of Contents. Over 100 named lines long, divided into five parts, it’s intimidating. There are three chapters before Part I even begins (a preface, an introduction, and a confusing mini-chapter). At the other end, there’s a chapter called The End, followed by Farewell to Arms, an Epilogue, AND a section called Postpartum. Each one of the hundred or so chapters begins with a page of 5-10 quotations which the author tells us are important/relevant but it’s a mental effort to interpret them.
That’s all before I actually started reading the text. The author is obviously highly intelligent and he writes well. But after a dozen or so pages, I was confused. Totally lost, in fact. Not from in-over-my-head science, but complete plot disorientation. Where? Who? What? Literary and scientific references abound, but I simply could not get a handle on this book. I gave up.
Time One might work if you’re a physicist and you’re curious to see how another physicist uses fiction to summarize the quest for knowledge of the universe and its origin. For the science thriller fan, look elsewhere.