New release book review: THE FLICKER MEN by Ted Kosmatka

ScienceThrillers.com book review of The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka.

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BlueStar5

(extraordinary; top 10-15% of SciThri)

 

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a Rafflecopter giveaway of THE FLICKER MEN by Ted Kosmatka

Publication date: coming July 21, 2015
Category: science thriller

Summary (from the publisher):

A quantum physicist shocks the world with a startling experiment, igniting a struggle between science and theology, free will and fate, and antagonizing forces not known to exist

Eric Argus is a washout. His prodigious early work clouded his reputation and strained his sanity. But an old friend gives him another chance, an opportunity to step back into the light.

With three months to produce new research, Eric replicates the paradoxical double-slit experiment to see for himself the mysterious dual nature of light and matter. A simple but unprecedented inference blooms into a staggering discovery about human consciousness and the structure of the universe.

His findings are celebrated and condemned in equal measure. But no one can predict where the truth will lead. And as Eric seeks to understand the unfolding revelations, he must evade shadowy pursuers who believe he knows entirely too much already.

ScienceThrillers review:

Quantum tunneling, entanglement and Einstein’s spooky action at a distance, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, and the simultaneous existence of light as both particle and wave are a few examples of the profound weirdness of modern physics. Physicists construct mathematical abstractions that predict the ultimate reality of the universe. Not material for an easy work of nonfiction, but rich for the novelist.

Ted Kosmatka weaves these quantum physics ideas as threads in the most interesting science thriller I’ve read this year. This author successfully blurs the line between where the real science ends, and the fiction begins, in a story that is a brilliant extrapolation of the famous double-slit experiment (which you don’t need to know before reading this book, but if you’ve heard of it you’ll find it even more intriguing). According to the great physicist Richard Feynman, all of quantum mechanics can be gleaned from carefully thinking through the implications of the double-slit experiment. As a reader, you needn’t think that hard, but fans of hard sci-fi will love the “red meat” in this story.

The Flicker Men twists the weird implications of the experiment into a narrative that is both surprising and philosophically rich. Rare is the thriller where the seasoned reader can’t predict where the plot is going. Here is one that opens so many possibilities in the first 1/3 of the book that I was simply delighted with anticipation of where the author was going to take me.

Kosmatka’s writing is smart, spare, and occasionally eloquent in a science-y way.

“The homes were low and powerfully built, like short, stocky wrestlers…Front fences crowded the sidewalk. The people on the street here were monochrome, a sign that something was working against diffusion.”

“He’d always had a menacing profile–bony and projecting, like he carried a percentage or two more Neanderthal than average and it had all landed in his face.”

As in Kosmatka’s previous science thriller novel Prophet of Bones, the ending isn’t as strong as the superlative beginning. But The Flicker Men finishes much better than the earlier book. My only complaint is Kosmatka’s tendency in both novels to dangle ideas and connections but not always fully explain them later (a problem that severely weakened Prophet). Sometimes this shows respect for the reader’s intelligence. Other times it leaves the reader hanging. For example, in The Flicker Men Kosmatka suggests a link between the main character’s sister and a woman he encounters later, both of whom have a deformed hand. I was not clever enough to really figure out what was implied (if anything?). Despite such moments of dissatisfaction, the outstanding premise and opening of The Flicker Men is sufficient to make this a five-star read.

The Flicker Men is a singular work of hard SF by one of the most inspired science fiction writers working today. Page after page, The Flicker Men excites the mind with scientific mysteries and quickens the heartbeat with thrills. A physics-themed science thriller that will leave you thinking long after the final page is turned.

If you like The Flicker Men, you’ll love: Schrodinger’s Gat by Robert Kroese.

ScienceThrillers review of Schrodinger’s Gat

FCC disclaimer: An advance reader copy of this book was given to me for review. As always, I made no guarantee that I would read the book or post a positive review.

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4 Responses to New release book review: THE FLICKER MEN by Ted Kosmatka

  1. mtlion says:

    Well, I can maybe answer a couple, but I have a similar question for part of it as well.
    1) how the nesting universes are made–the concept nesting, I can visualize, the creation I cannot, sorry.
    2) why finding out there are soulless people would enrage the Flicker Men and make them want to kill Eric–Here I also have a question. I think the fated can be used by either side–Mercy for the builders; the fake blind scientist for the destroyers. But I don’t know that, can someone confirm? Either way, to know they exist helps the “evolved–wave collapsing” scientists to step closer to the new discoveries and inventions that will help to create a new universe in time (before the cascade burns completely, ie to prolong the cascade), and continues the idea of the arrow of time as eternal (and pointing only one way).
    3) Why the sphere is the eberaxi, or the thing that messed up the universe, and why the Flicker Men like it–This I believe I understand as Brighton explained most of it in Stuart’s (sp?) lab: The sphere as a PERFECT and COMPLETE recorder/ing, pins every bit of reality in that position, in the past, in the present, and very important in the future, so no other possibility/potential can be chosen, no other wave can be collapsed to create a different reality, for all that is within the range of the sphere. Thus the sphere intact, acts like a pin in the corner of a piece of paper on a cork board. That one point, keeps the paper from moving in, or folding in, all possible ways. If one adds another sphere, two pins in the paper, a third, a third pin, and the possibilities are limited eventually to so few out the original infinite that…wait for it, no corrections can be made any longer. Without those corrections, creating new universes in the time remaining before the burning cascade is completely consumed, would be impossible even with the exponentially accelerated time in the “current” universe compared to the prior steps in the cascade. That’s why the sphere was so appealing to the flickermen destroyers. Simply by keeping it intact and manipulating scientists into learning more about it and creating more of them, they have the weapons needed to stop the cascade completely. I believe the sphere was the reason the pendulum left that pin erect, it could not move as it should have moved because the sphere trapped some of the potentials, limiting the flexibility of possibility, squeezing the pendulum just enough to leave the pin erect.
    4) What happened to the Flicker Men and why the fated all died at the end–I also want to know what happened to the flickermen of Brighton’s eschelon (including Brighton). I also would like to know why the fated all died/suicided. I can only fill in part of it. Remember the authour made a big deal of how the fated would be treated differently from the “evolved”; how discrimination would be widespread and in some cases horrible. So with the paper published and a large group of scientists with knowledge, surely such discrimination would indeed occur. And what about experimentation on the fated themselves (ugh!). How to prevent all that? Well, remove the evidence and prevent credible replication of the consciousness/fated experiment, such that detectors are “debunked”. If this was all there was to it, fated could be reinstalled after a century or so, when the idea falls fully into disrepute and obscurity (false as it would be, one assumes it would be completely believed). However, I wonder, if there is a second layer to it, as you alluded, if the fated were no longer needed, they would cease to exist–I missed this text, but I take your word that it was written–perhaps with such knowledge of the fated and the sphere and the evolved, science makes the leap, not only allowing a new universe to be created in time to prolong the cascade, but also taking civilisation past the barrier from requiring the fated to being able to make the corrections needed without them. Or perhaps extending this idea, with time so accelerated in the current universe, the tech leap that occurs with the knowledge of the fated etc, brings civilisation into the accomplished state of being always able to prolong the cascade. Third possibility, knowing of the fated, makes them useless to both sides–the destroyers and the builders. Or a variation, having demonstrated the fated were used by the destroyers, the builders ruled them more dangerous than helpful to prolonging the cascade. As I say above, I would like the answer to this as well.
    5) whether or not Eric moved into a new universe at the end–Again, I know it’s not fashionable, but I really would like to know what the authour had in mind. I think we are supposed to understand that he does “move sideways”, between parallel universes, or at least we see him move from the fatal universe to the corrected universe (that correction being the sum of all the corrections that were prevented by the sphere, remember Stuart (sp?) had that sphere working for quite some time). My thought was that Mercy was pulled at the right time from her fatal universe to Eric’s surviving universe. Either that was just sideways due to using a fluke Vickers knew to exist, or maybe there is another story in Mercy. Maybe she had Eric’s role in her universe, somehow making happen a a correction necessary to create a new universe (Eric’s universe?) from her original universe, and she died in Eric’s universe. Now Eric has provided for the massive correction to make a new universe and he will help the next person. Remember Eric is “part of it” according to Vickers, part of the eberaxi.
    You also mention the theme of damaged hands. Eric is left-handed (before and after the climax), he damaged his sister’s hand while drunk; Mercy’s hand was damaged before they met and shown when she saved Eric; Eric saves the world he “broke” and damages his hand in the act (one assumes his injury was caused by the shattering sphere). Maybe it’s literary technique only, a way to express Eric’s guilt for truly personal injury he caused. To make him sympathetic and to follow his progress through the aftermath of his breakdown and into functional recovery. Maybe Mercy was his sister in her original universe (although she is fated and he is evolved; we do not know Eric’s sister’s status, or that it matters, but if it does, they are both fated helping the builders by helping Eric). Maybe this is bleedthrough from how the authour feels gratitude and realisation of sacrifice from the women in his life. Lastly, perhaps it gives us reason to wonder if it is all in Eric’s delusional drunkard brain and his amnesiac reaction to his prescriptions. Maybe the “event” happened while he was in detox and being medicated and he listened to the news repeatedly and the whole novel is how his delusions aligned everything while he was in the throws of withdrawal and delerium tremens. Of course that leaves us trying to put an accurate chronology to when he placed the split experiment printouts in the envelopes compared to when he was taking all those pills. Hmmm. Authour, authour?
    Interesting discussion in any case.

  2. Alex says:

    SO, I just finished this book and liked it, but had a lot of questions- holes in the story that I would love if some other readers could help me fill. So SPOILERS AHEAD because most of my questions are about the overall science of the book and the ending.
    So correct me if I’m wrong- but what we find out is that this is the last universe in a series of nesting universes, and that the first universe somehow has died or fizzled out, correct? So the universes want to create more universes within it, as the other bigger universes die off, to prolong the cascade. But the Flicker Men, for whatever reason, want to stop that progress so the cascade will all die out. Ad they will use the eberaxi to do that. Brighton even says at the end that he wants to end this cascade, but it’s not the only cascade of universes.
    Here’s the thing I never figured out from the book, how do you create another universe inside the other one? Brighton wanted to stop Eric from making scientific discoveries- why? Because his discoveries would lead to an understanding that would create another nesting universe? I understood the whole Feynman Slit plotline, and how they found that some people do not seem to have the consciousness or “soul” needed to collapse the probability waveform. But I do not see how that breakthrough would make The Flicker Men want to stop him- or basically what that understanding would do to lead to another universe, which is what the Flicker Men don’t want.
    Then that sphere comes into play. The Flicker Men seemed to want the sphere to be made, because it ended up being the eberaxi, or the thing that threw this whole world out opf whack and made it unable to create new nesting worlds. But why? If anyone has a theory, please let me know.
    Then there’s the ending- Eric smashes the eberaxi and therefore sets the universe straight somehow. So is that why all the fated, the people without souls, made to just keep the system of the world running, kill themselves? The moment he shatters the sphere, we find out later a lot of people around the world just died or killed themselves, and Vickers said earlier that if these fated were no longer needed they would cease to exist. So why were they no longer needed?
    Also, what happened to the Flicker Men after the sphere shattering? Did they die in the shatter? It sure seemed like Eric died, and then, like Mercy, when he was dying in one universe he woke up in another one, but with a problem with his hand. Does this mean that other universe dies and this is the new nesting universe, where he doesn’t have the assorted injuries he got in the other one, but just the messed up hand, like Mercy had? And how does this relate to his sister’s hand, that he destroyed while drunk, if it relates at all?
    So yeah, those are my thoughts of how I understand the book and what I need to make sense of. So if any other readers could let me know
    1) how the nesting universes are made
    2) why finding out there are soulless people would enrage the Flicker Men and make them want to kill Eric
    3) Why the sphere is the eberaxi, or the thing that messed up the universe, and why the Flicker Men like it
    4) What happened to the Flicker Men and why the fated all died at the end
    5) whether or not Eric moved into a new universe at the end

    Any thoughts or comments would be much appreciated!!!

    • Amy Rogers says:

      Wow, Alex, you’ve definitely given this a lot of thought. I agree that these are all issues one can find in the text and I don’t have answers. Perhaps the author could give you details of his thinking. As a reader, I pretty much just rolled with it. Complicated stuff, though.

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