Sunday, August 26, 2012

Adrift on the Sea of Rains - Ian Sales

Adrift on the Sea of Rains is the first novella in a series of four chronicling four alternative histories of the Apollo program. The second novella, with the interesting title The Eye With Which The Universe Beholds Itself is scheduled for some time next month and parts three and four, which as far as I know are still without a title are due to appear in 2013. Adrift on the Sea of Rains was published in April by Whippleshield Books of which Sales is the founder. As of yet, it is their only publication so you might say it was self published. Sales is ambitious though. He means to expand and it looks like he has a very particular taste in science fiction. He believes that "science  fiction does not need implausible gosh-wow special effects and  over-the-top space-operatics in order to be good science fiction" and aims to publish only a very small number of titles a year. A project to keep an eye on. From what I read on their website good stuff that would be very hard to sell in other markets might get a shot here.

Colonel Vance Peterson has been fortunate enough to be on the Moon when the Earth below him, was tearing itself apart in a nuclear war. Now, he and the surviving members of the expedition look at the ruined Earth in the knowledge that nobody is going to show up to take them home. Although the Moon base is equipped to support them for quite a while, food is becoming scarce. In desperation, the men have now turned their hopes to the experimental torsion field generator. This offshoot of a near mythical Nazi Wunderwaffe has recently been transferred to the Moon for further research. It may just be able to get them home, if they can make it work in time.

Sales has taken the Apollo missions as the basis for his story and he has researched them meticulously. The history he describes is obviously not our own but it is very hard to tell the point of divergence. The story is filled with details on previous Apollo missions and technical details on existing materiel, ranging from spacesuits to landers. The Cold War, conflict that in large part drove the US space program in the 1950s and 1960s, is clearly still ongoing. Very little is mentioned about the Soviet achievements in space but Peterson's hostility towards the soviets is quite clear, as is his sense of achievement and technological superiority.

In the novella, hostilities between the Soviets and NATO has moved beyond posturing and proxy wars. Skirmishes are frequent and in the flashback sections of the story we are shown Peterson's involvement in them. He doesn't seem to think so himself but I can't help but wonder how much his actions contributed to the eventual escalation of the conflict. Sales switches from the present tense, in which most of the story is written, to the past tense for these flashbacks. It both helps to develop Peterson's character and explain his attitude to his situation the people who are caught up in this nightmare with and his decisions later on in the story. They also provide a break from the tense and  gloomy atmosphere of the Moon base. Sales may be fascinated by the Apollo program, he is obviously very aware that is was a show of power and a propaganda tool as much as a scientific endeavour.

That is all in the background of the story however, Peterson is more concerned with the situation at the Moon base. Sales describes it in depressing detail. The poor food, the lack of meaningful work to do, the low morale amongst his colleagues. Sales uses a third person perspective for the story creating a bit more distance between the reader and Peterson. He goes though a wide range of emotions during the story and experiences high levels of stress. I started out sympathizing with him to an extend but as the story progresses Peterson becomes increasingly unlikable. We start out with a man who is disillusioned, see him gain hope and accept once more the burden of leadership and end up with a man who can't imagine a geopolitical situation than his own. It may seem to story is pretty straightforward but the real twist is at the end.

The follows the absurd tendency of the US military to insert at least three acronyms into each sentence. The novel is very heavy on them.
     Alden shakes his head. How much does the ascent stage weigh?
10,024 lb, says Curtis from memory. 
     You add a DPS onto that, plus 20,000 lb of fuel, continues Alden, and the APS is not going to reach lunar escape velocity. 
     APS thrust is 3,500 lbf, says Curtis. You can get maybe 12,000 lbs into lunar orbit with that. 
     We don’t need 20,000 lb of fuel, Bartlett points out. We only need enough for the TEI burn. 
     Again, Curtis quotes figures from memory: The CSM is 66,871 lb fully loaded, the SPS has 20,500 lbf thrust. You need a 203 second burn for TEI. 
     See, says Bartlett. Our LM will be maybe one-fifth that. As long as we can get the delta vee for TEI from the DPS— 
     It’s too heavy, Alden repeats.

The crew discussing the technical problems they encounter when trying to get a landing vehicle off the Moon's surface
Nobody not familiar with the US military and the Apollo program can be expected to make sense of such conversations. Sales has included a lengthy appendix explaining the important technical concepts. He also uses it to give an overview of the historical Apollo missions before veering of into his alternative history. The two are mixed up seamlessly making it a perfect excuse to go exploring on the Internet to see what is history and what Sales made up. Some appendices to works of science fiction beg to be ignored, this one is a must read.

The  quote also shows another feature of Sales' writing. He doesn't used quotation marks in the dialogues. It's a style that takes a bit of getting used to. Again, it made me feel a bit more distanced from the characters than I would otherwise have felt. The reader is very much an observer in this story. People who want to be dragged into a tale might find this novella hard to get into.

Just as Sales promised, Adrift on the Sea of Rains does not include implausible special effects or over-the-top space-operatics. A very deliberate choice by the author, the story could easily have contained some big explosions or 'pulse-pounding' action scenes. There is no shortage of such stories in science fiction. Some of the events are quite dramatic but the distance to the characters, Sales' acronym laden prose, and the way in which he writes dialogues makes the drama appear understated. It makes Sales' literary quirks stand out and shifts the reader's attention to some of the more subtle things going on in the background. There is a lot going on in this novella stylistically. It's a piece that needs and deserves to be read carefully. If Sales manages this kind of quality writing in the remaining three parts we'll end up with something special indeed.

Book Details
Title: Adrift on the Sea of Rains
Author: Ian Sales
Publisher: Whippleshield Books
Pages: 68
Year: 2012
Language: English
Format: E-book
ISBN: 978-0-9571883-2-7
First published: 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Like Last Year, I Completely Missed Random Comments' Brithday

Which is August 17th :P I think I need to put it on the calendar or something. Anyway, today the blog is exactly 3 years and 8 days old. It is still not much in terms of traffic or any other measure one might think of to express popularity or quality but I am satisfied with the fact that is lasted as long as it did. Pretty sure there is a fourth year of life in this blog too. I think I will celebrate with a review tomorrow ;)

Friday, August 17, 2012

White Mars - Brian W. Aldiss

While rereading Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, books I consider to be among the very best in science fiction, I came across various references to White Mars Or, The Mind Set Free by Brian W. Aldiss, written in collaboration with prominent physicists Roger Penrose. Robinson's utopian vision of a terraformed Red Planet is not something everybody would see as ideal or even morally acceptable. In the Mart trilogy Robinson pays a lot of attention to the discussion between what he calls the Reds, a faction opposed to terraforming the planet and convinced of its intrinsic value, and the Green faction who would exploit the planet and make it more hospitable to human life. Aldiss (and Penrose) wrote this novel as a reply to Robinson's vision of utopia portrayed in his Mars novels. The debate about how to set up a utopian society on Mars is the single most important topic in this book. As a nod to his source of inspiration, Robinson even had a street named after him. As far as I can tell White Mars is out of print, I had a hard time tracking down a useful copy without resorting to the countless torrents out there. After having read it, I can't say I am terribly surprised by the relative obscurity of this book. The philosophical argument may be sound, as a work of literature Robinson's novels are far superior.

Since this novel is a reply to Robinson's work I find it very difficult not to see it in the light of the Mars trilogy. In fact, when I first heard about the novel I questioned the wisdom of trying to cover ground Robinson had already so thoroughly explored. No matter how unfair it may be to compare books of different authors to each other, this novel practically begs for it. I'm not sure how much sense this review will make if you have not read Robinson's novels. You have been warned.

A few decades from now, humanity has established a permanent presence on Mars. The harsh environment makes it necessary to hide under domes, always having to be car eful with supplies of air and water. A huge consortium known by the acronym EUPACUS, to which almost all of the economic powers on Earth have contributed, manages the huge undertaking of colonizing the planet and the programs to send a few privileged people up to Mars. Until fraud, corruption and mismanagement on a massive scale are discovered that is. The consortium collapses and the economic crisis that follows, makes sure nobody will be travelling to Mars in the near future. The people already there are stranded. The colony is more or less self sufficient by now, but to most people there, counting on a short stay on the Red Planet, being cut of from Earth is nothing short of a disaster. Others see an opportunity. Under the guidance of the visionary Tom Jefferies, the first steps are being taken towards a utopian society.

The approach to the colonization of Mars present in Red Mars (1992) is quite different from what we find in White Mars. In Robinson's vision the initial stages of colonization are very much oriented towards exploitation of the planet, setting up part of a conflict that will run throughout the trilogy. Aldiss immediately takes a different route:
'All environments are sacrosanct,' Anstruther declared. 'The planet Mars is a sacrosanct environment and must be treated as such. It has not existed untouched for millions of years only to be reduced to one of Earth's tawdry suburbs today. My strong recommendation is that Mars be preserved, as the Antarctic has been preserved for many years, as a place of wonder and meditation, a symbol of our future guardianship of the entire solar system - a planet for science, a White Mars.'

Leo Anstruher addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations - Chapter 1
The speeches made at the General Assembly are not quite as rousing as the debate between Ann Clayborne and Sax Russel if you ask me. Something that turns out to be a problem in much of the novel.

Conceptually, I guess you could say the hand of a master is present in this novel. The collapse of the organisation that organizes space travel to Mars and the financial crisis that follows are eerily familiar to the event surrounding the collapse of Lehman Brothers for instance. An event that took place nine years after this book was published. I guess Aldiss felt that in order for his utopian society to have a chance it needed to develop in isolation. Something that would never happen if Earth had anything to say about the matter. So far at least, he is in agreement with Robinson although the details differ considerably.

Adiss does not just concern himself with what society should look like though. He makes a link with physics where, I assume, is where we can find part of Penrose's input. It is a good thing I had just brushed up on quantum mechanics while reading Ted Kosmatka's Divining Light or a lot of it would have been right over my head. In fact, quite a lot of it still was. The search for what we think of as the Higgs boson, very much in the public eye at the moment given the results of CERN, is still ongoing in the novel. Aldiss and Penrose speculated that the Large Hadron Collider, construction of which started in 1998, would not find a particle in the traditional sense and that the mystery of how particles attain mass would remain. The way things are going now, it looks like CERN will observe, or perhaps already has observed, a Higgs boson. In 1999 this was be no means certain though. In the novel, what we think of as a particle is described as a smudge, the parameters of which can only be more narrowly defined by installations capable of even greater energies than the one unleashed by the Large Hadron Collider under conditions that cannot be found on Earth. Mars is the ideal location, provided humanity does not disturb the planet too much. In effect, this research blocks attempts at terraforming. A second practical obstacle besides the financial one.

The question of the Omega Smudge (or Higgs particle if you will) is linked in the novel with the question of human consciousness. The subtitle of the novel is The Mind Set Free and how to achieve this is the focus of many a discussion. I must admit that although I could follow the speculation on physics for the most part, the connection with conciousness remained nebulous to me. what is clear to me is that there is a direct link between to two. A link that is used in the novel to answer one of the most intriguing questions about Mars: is there life on the Red Planet? As it turns out, the answer is yes, but not in any shape or form ever imagined by scientists. Perhaps the most interesting aspect about this life form is that it appears to be responding to the human presence on the planet. Have they disturbed it's unusual ecology?

The way this lifeform (I won't spoil the story for you by giving too much detail) is described strikes me as a little far fetched. Then again, who knows what alien life might look like. What I didn't like about it element in the story it that Aldiss again uses it to throw up a barrier against the development of the planet. The third major practical obstacle against terraforming, that most likely is not present on Mars. At this point I began to wonder if Adiss had lost faith in the strength his own argument. Still, conceptually it is quite a challenging novel. People who like hard science fiction certainly have something to sink their teeth in here.

Nevertheless, I liked Robinson's books a whole lot better, mostly based on more literary arguments. Many people have trouble with the Mars books because of Robinson's tendency to loose himself in lengthy descriptions of landscapes, science or interior monologues. For me that is part of what makes these novels so good. Robinson makes you experience Mars as if you are standing on the planet yourself. I never felt a single passage was a plain infodump. With Aldiss, I do get that feeling a lot. He even has one of the physicists in the novel lecture the other characters (and by extension the reader) in a rather condescending way about the progress of the search for the Omega smudge. It often feels forced into the narrative and doesn't always contribute to the development of the characters. There is also quite a lot of material that is written in such a way that a reader who isn't all that interested in the subject discussed will have a hard time working their way though these sections. Personally, I wouldn't go so far as to call it boring but I know plenty of readers who wouldn't hesitate to do just that.

There we hit on a second problem with this novel. Most of it is told from the perspective of Tom Jefferies (read: Thomas Jefferson) and his adopted daughter Cang Hai. Adiss fails to give these two characters, or a number of secondary characters their own voice. The entire book is written in a rather monotone, almost formal style that is more suitable to an academical work that a work of fiction. To a point this works for some of the more technical scenes. The debates that take place amongst the stranded humans are quite tame because of it. These debates center on how to best develop their utopian society, touching upon the deepest, most sacred ethics and beliefs of people. Consider also that the people sent to Mars are generally highly educated and accomplished in their field. Not people to let others do their thinking for them. It is not that there isn't disagreement, but not on the scale you'd expect and certainly not as intense. Jefferies way to utopia (mind you, he doesn't always get to do things his way but still more often than not) is apparently the only logical path?

Some of the arguments made, make a lot of sense. They manage to do away with a lot of historical ballast that is holding humanity back on earth. On the other hand there is quite a lot of ivory tower blathering going on in this novel. People engaged in highly philosophical arguments when their very existence on the planet is quite tenuous at best. Somehow I don't really see a groups of human beings reach some sort of consensus quite that easily under such stressful circumstance. Jefferies has neither the authority nor the (military) strength to back up his attempts to form a utopian society. In a true utopian he wouldn't need either of course, but certainly early on in the novel, they are no where near that point yet. It is a far cry from the passionate debates at Dorsa Brevia in Green Mars (1993) and and the constitutional congress covered in the early stages of Blue Mars (1996). To the point even where it made me wonder if Robinson, one of science fiction's most notorious optimists, is actually more cynical about human nature than Aldiss and Penrose.

Adiss and Penrose have delivered a fairly impenetrable counter argument to Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. Maybe he is right in saying that Robinson dismissed the 'Red' (or I guess Adiss would call in White) argument for humanity's treatment of the planet but he doesn't present it in a particularly engaging way. Without the connection to Robinson's work, I don't think I would have thought it worth my time to be honest. While the novel is certainly intellectually challenging I found the prose rather stiff and incapable of conveying the passion Jefferies must have felt about creating a new society. The characterization is pretty uniform, each of the character delivering their part of the tale in a detached and almost academic style. White Mars is clearly the work of a great intellect (or maybe I should say two great intellects), but, without having read any of his other books, I do get the impression we are not seeing Aldiss at the top of his abilities here.

Book Details
Title: White Mars Or, The Mind Set Free
Author: Brian W. Aldiss
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Pages: 323
Year: 2000
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0-312-25473-3
First published: 1999

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Quartet - Four Tales from the Crossroads - George R.R. Martin

I've been seriously distracted from my reading lately so to tide you all over I have dusted off and partially rewritten an older review. This one was originally written in March 2009. It needed less editing than most pieces I wrote back then but some changes have been made. Hope to be back with fresh material next week.

Published in 2001 Quartet - Four Tales from the Crossroads contains four pieces of fiction from the period between his 1983 novel The Armageddon Rag and the huge success of his A Song of Ice and Fire series in the late 1990s. In this period Martin was mostly occupied by writing screenplays for television shows such as Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast as well as editing the long-running Wild Cards series. With his attention mostly directed elsewhere, his output as a short fiction writer decreased. The year 1986 saw the collection Tuf Voyaging appear but after that new material was scarce. Martin still wrote a number of of very good stories in those years, some of which have been collected in the career spanning collection Dreamsongs: A RRetrospective, which any fan of Martin's work should read. Three of the four works in this collection cannot be found in Dreamsongs, so as a big fan of Martin's writing I gave this book a go.

The first story in the collection is Black and White and Red All Over. It was to be Martin's fifth novel but after The Armageddon Rag turned into a commercial disaster it failed to sell and Martin abandoned the project in favour of Tuf and his projects in Hollywood. Black and White and Red All Over is a historical fiction set in 1890s New York. The idea for the story is based on a comment by superintendent Thomas Bryrnes, who once boasted that if saucy Jack (the Ripper) should try his nonsense in New York he'd be caught within 36 hours. With no chance of Jack actually showing up in New York, this was a safe boast. But what if Jack had taken up the challenge?

Martin obviously did quite a lot of research on this project, both on the setting as well as a number of historical incidents and people that are featured in the story. The fragment in Quartet, about a hundred pages long, reads as the beginning of a very ambitious novel. Frankly, I am astounded that it didn't sell. With A Song of Ice and Fire under his belt, I doubt Martin would have any problems selling it today of course, but even taking into account the state of his career back then, it looks too good to pass up on. It is an absolute waste that he didn't finish the story. As it is, I thought it well worth reading but it does stop, as Martin himself puts it, "virtually in mid-sentence". Just when he had me solidly hooked too. Black and White and Red All Over leaves the reader hanging, something that some readers will find very unsatisfying. Don't try it if you can't stand an unfinished story, given all the projects Martin is involved in, it is unlikely ever to be finished.

The second story in the collection is Skin Trade, a novella written for Night Visions 5. It won him the World Fantasy Award for best novella in 1989. Skin Trade is a bit unusual for Martin. It is an uncut horror story. Martin has written quite a few stories that could be considered horror but he usually mixes it with science fiction, or in the case of his novel Fevre Dream, with historical fiction. This is the only story that I know of, where he tackles a classic horror theme, the werewolf, in a contemporary setting. The story deals with a number of murders in town fallen on hard times. The first victim is a friend of the main character Willie. He calls in a favour with a private investigator to find out more about the case and soon becomes very much involved in the case. With Martin using a classic theme in this story it is not highly original. It is very well written though. Martin does a good job of building suspense, timing the clues he leaves the readers very well. Willie is also one of the great flawed heroes Martin likes the write about. Of the four stories in this collection this is probably the most satisfying read. There are persistent rumours that this novella will be turned into a movie. I think it is very suitable for that, if a movie ever does hit the cinemas I'll go see it.

During his time in Hollywood Martin wrote several teleplays that were never produced. Starport is one of them. The pilot for a new science fiction series which never made the production stage. The draft Martin included was too long fro a two hour pilot of course, but it does give us a good idea what the series might have looked like. From what I read I even might have liked the series, which is high praise since I rarely see anything on television these days that is worth my attention. The story follows the adventures of a police station that happens to be unfortunate enough to be located near a Starport, as the name suggests a place with aliens and humanity meet, and one of only three such places on the planet. The cops face all manner of strange creatures, odd habits, cultural differences and xenophobia in the line of duty. I like the idea but I must admit I don't like reading teleplays. I had the same experience reading the two Martin included in Dreamsongs. A teleplay sketches the bare outlines of the story, just a few words on the setting and the characters, letting the preconceptions of the reader fill in the blanks. The figures and scenes you see in this teleplay are often very stereotypical. No doubt those characters would be fleshed out in the series, but in this pilot they are not. It clearly shows the difference between writing a teleplay and a novel. I guess it also shows something of Martin's versatility as a writer. That is not enough to really make it an enjoyable read though.

The last part of the collection is dedicated to the fourth genre Martin's stories are usually placed in. Blood of the Dragon is a Fantasy novella set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire. It was first published in the July 1996 issue of Asimov's and won a Hugo for best novella in 1997. It tells the story of Daenerys and Khal Drogo, a tale the readers of A Game of Thrones will be familiar with. As far as I can tell the Daenerys chapters in that novel are identical to the text in the novella. If you have read A Game of Thrones this novella will not add anything new. Daenerys' story is set apart from the rest of the events in that book so it does make a very good novella. I'm not sure if it is a good introduction to the series though. Danerys' story is set in a very different setting that the more recognizable pseudo medieval England of the Seven Kingdoms. That being said, her chapters in A Game of Thrones are among my favourites in the series. That Hugo was well deserved in my opinion.

So there you have it, Quartet - Four Tales from the Crossroads, four stories in four genres, Martin's writing in a nutshell. Does that make this book worth reading? I'd say only for the real fan. An unfinished novel, a piece of another, a teleplay... they are all worth reading but their still only bits and pieces of Martin's career. Unfinished projects, unrealized ambition and a taste of a far larger project, none of that makes for very satisfying reading. It does give the reader a better understanding of Martin's development as a writer and why he chose to follow the path he did. Martin's career is littered with ideas that did not lead to stories and projects that were eventually abandoned. It takes nerve to publish some of it anyway and in that sense enjoyed reading it. On the other hand, it leaves me wishing he had finished Black and White and Red All Over. Or that he will at some point. The chances of that happening seem remote at best. So think carefully before picking this up, Quartet will leave you hungry for something that hasn't been written yet, and what's worse, something that may never be written.

Book Details
Title: Quartet - Four Tales from the Crossroads
Author: George R.R. Martin
Publisher: NESFA Press
Pages: 429
Year: 2001
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 1-886778-35-3
First published: 2001

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I've Been Interviewed!

Normally I am quite happy to share my opinion on a given book without being asked but this time someone actually wanted to know my opinion. Fantastical Librarian Mieneke invited me to take part in her blogger query series, in which she interrogates fellow bookbloggers about their approach to reviewing (among other things).

Mieneke is one of the few Dutchies that I'm aware of running an English language book blog. For the occasion she has slipped in a few questions on how I came to review in English and how I feel about being away from all the action. Just to make you curious:
You're one of the only, if not the only, Dutch book reviewers I know and like me, you blog in English. Did this evolve naturally from the subject matter we review, since the availability of SFF in Dutch is so limited? Or was it a conscious choice?

It wasn't really a concious choice. My Livejournal is in English, mostly because most of the people I tried to stay in touch with do not speak Dutch. Fantasybookspot was a site run by two American guys, so I didn't really have a choice there. After that, I had gotten so used to it, that writing in Dutch didn't really occur to me. I have written a few review in Dutch, but only two of those eventually made it online. Writing in Dutch is still easier for me, but part of that advantage is lost if you read the book in English. My vocabulary in English is limited, but I have gotten to the level where I know words in English that I wouldn't know the Dutch translation of. Especially in genre fiction, which has a pretty peculiar vocabulary of its own, this can be a pain in the backside when you have to write about it in another language. I don't envy translators in this respect.....
What to know more about my motivations and ambitions (or lack thereof)? Head on over to A Fantastical Librarian. Don't forget to check out Mieneke's reviews, they make for excellent reading.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Divining Light - Ted Kosmatka

I am a little short on time this week so I haven't yet finished the novel I intended to review. To fill the gap I browsed though the pile of unread fiction I have gathered from the web over the past couple of years and came across Divining Light by Ted Kosmatka. Kosmatka has recently published his first novel titled The Games. It is a book I considered reading but didn't find the time for. The rest of his oeuvre consists of short fiction of which I have only read one piece. A story called The N-Word which was published in the John Joseph Adams anthology Seeds of Change (2008). I probably picked up this story after it was nominated for the 2009 Nebula for best novelette, which eventually went to Eugie Foster's Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast. That must have been quite a story to beat Kosmatka's piece. Depressing as it is, I liked Divining Light a lot.

At the opening of the story we meet Eric Argus, a scientist working in quantum mechanics who went through a severe crisis after thinking over some of the implications of his research. He has turned to the bottle and has not produced any publishable work since. His work was of such high quality however, that his is offered a new chance. Eric is convinced he will fail but in the quiet, academic environment he finds himself in, he starts experimenting none the less. Encouraged by some of his colleagues he hits upon an application of quantum mechanics that has even more disturbing implications than his previous work.

Divining Light is a hard science fiction story. Don't bother reading it if you don't as least have a faint interest in physics. Most of it will either go right over your head or bore you to tears. Quantum mechanics, for me at least, always had something very counter-intuitive about it. It makes me have to pay close attention when reading science fiction that involves this branch of physics. The story is centered around a classic experiment known as Feynman's double slit experiment or Young's experiment. It is taught in classrooms all over the word to demonstrate that light can display both characteristics of wave phenomena and particles. The interesting thing about this experiment is that is was first performed in the 1790s, more than a century before the theoretical framework of physics caught up with this phenomenon. In the story the experiment is done with an electron beam rather than light but the effect is the same. The story contains references to such things as Wheeler's delayed choice experiment, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, Schrödinger's cat and the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. In short, it is quite heavy on physics.

There is no denying Divining Light is a story that leans heavily on ideas. Nevertheless, at the core of it, is a very human struggle. When the implications of his research become clear to Eric, he feels he has opened Pandora's box. You can't unlearn things and Eric deals poorly with his new found knowledge. Kosmatka slowly reveals what is bothering Eric while he explains the experiment to his colleagues. It is indeed an idea that seems to defy logic. So radical that it would be deeply upsetting to many people if it was proven correct. Eric struggle is excruciatingly painful at times. Kosmatka manages to show very well how Eric has tied himself into a knot. You can't help but agree with the character who wonders why the brilliant ones are always so screwed up.

Divining Light is not a story that makes the reader feel happy. At some point in the story Kosmatka leaves science and starts to speculate of course, I got the impression he stretches the science pretty far beyond what is currently being discussed in physics, but even keeping that in mind, he says some pretty disturbing things. One particular application of Eric's research that is mentioned in a bit more detail in the story doesn't speak well for humanity in particular. I don't doubt someone would be tempted to try it though. The author manages to connect the science and the effects on the human psyche very well. I haven't read many stories that manage this. In a way it reminded my of Ted Chiang's brilliant Division by Zero. It is clearly one of those stories that stayed on the to read stack too long. I guess I will have to read The Games now.

Story Details
Title: Divining Light
Author: Ted Kosmatka
Originally appeared in: Asimov's 2008
Pages: 29
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: E-book
First published: 2008