Daniel looked up from taking notes and grinned at Heather, “Ready for the next room?”
“Sure.” Letting Daniel go first they moved down the hall to the next door. Daniel gripped the door knob and gave it a push; he was surprised when the door refused to open.
“Hmmm, swollen I guess.” He pushed again but the door wouldn’t budge. “Well this won’t do. I’ve gotta see everything so I can give Sarah a good estimate. Little pigs, little pigs, let me in.” Daniel joked as he turned the knob and threw his shoulder into door to try and force it open. The door still didn’t budge. Rubbing his shoulder Daniel turned to Heather, “We may have to come back with some larger tools.”
Daniel jotted a note and walked across the hall to the next door. As he reached for the door knob there was a small click and both Heather and Daniel swung around as the door on the jammed room swung open. Heather felt a creepy feeling and gooseflesh popped up on her arms. Heather and Daniel shared a look and Heather said, “I guess you should have said the magic word.”
“What open sesame?” Both Daniel and Heather jumped as the door slammed shut again.
“No, the magic word is please.” The door knob turned and the door opened again.
“Oh come on!” Heather exclaimed.
“I’m sure there’s a logical reason,” Daniel said as he stepped into the room. Heather slowly followed him to the doorway and looked in.
“See, a broken window.”
Heather looked over to see that the window was indeed broken but not boarded over and she felt a strong breeze whipping around the room. But the breeze was so cold. She wondered when it had gotten so cold.
Daniel wedged the back of a straight backed chair under the door knob and began pacing the room. When Daniel motioned that she could enter the room Heather shook her head, she had decided that she could see everything she needed to from right there in the doorway. Daniel shrugged, dropped into his inspection mode and said nothing else.
This room was another bedroom, but this one was much larger and included a small door that probably led to a small bathroom. Tattered curtains billowed around a window with a spectacular view of the ocean. Daniel met her at the door and said, “Next.”
The next door in the hallway led to a small flight of stairs. “We’ll leave that for last,” Daniel said and moved on to the next door. In all the second floor of the cottage had three small bedrooms, one large bedroom with a private bath, and a shared bathroom with a tub and shower.
Daniel approached the door with the flight of stairs and said, “Now this should be special. You remember the drill.” Heather shook her head yes.
Daniel carefully worked his way up the stairs with no mishaps and gestured from Heather to follow him. At the top of the stairs was a small landing and another door.
Daniel opened the door and a huge rush of air breezed by Heather bringing with it the fresh smell of the ocean. All Heather could see through the door was the blue sky. Daniel smiled back at Heather and said, “The widow’s walk.” He stepped out of the door and began his careful pacing. Heather crept up to the doorway and put her head out savoring the fresh air. She looked to the left and saw the lighthouse rising high above her.
Mesmerized she walked over to the edge of the widow’s walk and its beautiful wrought iron railing. To her right was the ocean and god what a view! Way out on the horizon was the ever present fog bank and she thought she could see a large ship sailing just in front of it. She leaned forward straining to see more of the ship when she heard a loud crack and she began to feel herself falling forward. Her arms flailed reaching for something to grab onto but there was nothing.
A hand grabbed her upper arm and yanked her back away from the edge. Breathless she spun around to thank Daniel only to see him rushing toward her from the other side of the roof. “Heather! What the hell! Are you ok?”
Shaken she rubbed her upper arm and decided it would be best if she just sat down. She plopped down on the floor right where she stood. She looked at where she had been standing on the edge of the widow’s walk and saw that the railing had broken loose. The railing was hanging over the edge of the cottage and would have fallen to the ground if not for one long bolt holding it to the next section of railing.
Daniel knelt before her and was saying something. Heather had to make an effort to focus in on what he was saying. “Heather, are you ok? What the heck were you thinking?”
“I’m sorry, it’s just the view was so beautiful. I wasn’t thinking.”
Daniel put an arm around her and said, “At least you’re ok. Thank goodness you have such good balance. I heard the railing start to give way but I was too far away to reach you. I thought you were going over but then you caught your balance. Thank goodness.”
Heather rubbed her upper arm in confusion but before she could say anything there came a loud bang from somewhere beneath them in the cottage. Both Heather and Daniel jumped.
I’ve been getting pushes from a lot of my SF buddy-reading friends to tackle the Quartet series (the 4 books). Here I’m limiting myself reviewing-wise to just the first book for now (more later on). What we have here is SF at its finest. If there’s a heaven and a hell for SF works, this one definitely belongs to the high spheres. The novel’s subject matter: The Apollo programme went much further than in reality, and it was also used to establish a reality-shattering technology that aimed to switch between universes. Seems easy and belonging to the mundane spectrum of SF, right? No.
The one thing I for one know for sure about the future is that it won’t be easy. For this reason, Sales’ highly alternate reality carry conviction. He and I also suspect that the future will be a different country and in there they’ll talk a different language as well. The story’s heavy larding of this imagined-mixed-with-reality-slang does yield to patient study, but not, I fear, before Sales lost a fair percentage of his readership. Why? This is SF of the hardest type (the one closest to my heart). The novel seems just an old and familiar story. Too many SF writers try to entertain me with pseudo-conflicts which turn on arbitrary pseudo-answers to pseudo-problems. That’s not my kind of SF. I know I’m sometimes duly entertained, even if one hour later I don’t remember much of what I read. That’s my issue with much of the SF of nowadays. Only a few seem to devise realistic and complex answers to problems. Those who pose good strong problems later on take them out of the picture with a wisp of imaginary physics. My kind of SF might not be the hard kind (might even belong to the so-called soft sciences; e.g., China Mountain Zhang by Maureen F. McHugh). What matters to me is not the main character’s ability to solve the problem down there at the heart of the spaceship (as it’s the case here), or the asteroid, or the planet, or the nebula, or some such. Sometimes this is what puts “outsiders” off the SF genre (that’s why some readers find SF’s hardest kind so off-putting at times). What Sales accomplishes here is very rare in SF. The story here is not about understanding the physics or the technology, or believing the tilted outcome of this particular universe/alternate reality, because we are living in a reality so tilted as to lose the reader. Sales makes me believe in his reality, and there’s no other form of SF that generates so intense a feeling that the world we inhabit for the duration of the novel belongs by right to those who can relate.
For an interesting debate on the nature of SF vs Literary Fiction cf. Juliet McKenna’s essay from the Guardian: “Genre fiction is no different from literary fiction.”
It’s hard not to get in the mood by Sales’ enthusiasm for the science behind the fiction, even when he doesn't used quotation marks in the dialogues. This style is not new in SF (c.f., Margaret Atwood’s “The Blind Assassin”, José Saramago’s “Blindness” and The Elephant's Journey - my favourite novel from him -, Hal Duncan's “Vellum”, etc. I’m a sucker for this kid of technique. It makes the narrative more distanced, putting us very much as an observer in the story. Also quite effective was the way Sales “narrated” Peterson's past throughout the novella (in italics).
Downside to the story: the Wunderwaffe. It came off as a bit of deus ex machina. I’m not sure this way the best way to introduce String Theory and allowing for the possibility of alternate realities.
From now on Neal Stephenson is not alone as the master of the infodump and the “show-don’t-tell” type of SF. They can both tell rather than show. One of many examples from this book: “Peterson put one hand on his stick and the other to the throttle, and stared so hard at the TV screen his vision blurred until he was looking at an impressionist landscape of clouds lit by a pointillist sun.”
This is the kind of story that makes me believes SF won’t turn into a continuous utterly- anachronistic-Miles-Vorkosigan-Adventure or into a mercenaries-that-save-young-monarchs-and-solve-riddles-at-strange-foreign milieus. I don’t want to live in a world where this malady exists in SF…
SF = Speculative Fiction