ScienceThrillers.com book review of The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka.
(extraordinary; top 10-15% of SciThri)
Tech rating (out of 5):
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.
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.
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.