Book Review: Schrödinger’s Gat

“Schrödinger's Gat” by Robert KroeseIt was pure coincidence (or was it?) that caused me to pick up this book immediately after finishing Dean Radin’s Real Magic, but it is a perfect fictional companion to that work. Robert Kroese, whose Starship Grifters is the funniest science fiction novel I’ve read in the last several years, here delivers a tour de force grounded in quantum theory, multiple worlds, free will, the nature of consciousness, determinism versus uncertainty, the nature of genius, and the madness which can result from thinking too long and deeply about these enigmatic matters. This is a novel, not a work of philosophy or physics, and the story moves along smartly with interesting characters including a full-on villain and an off-stage…well, we’re not really sure. In a postscript, the author explicitly lists the “cheats” he used to make the plot work but notes, “The remarkable thing about writing this book was how few liberties I actually had to take.”

The story is narrated by Paul Bayes (whose name should be a clue we’re about to ponder what we can know in an uncertain world), who we meet as he is ready to take his life by jumping under a BART train at a Bay Area station. Paul considers himself a failure: failed crime writer, failed father whose wife divorced him and took the kids, and undistinguished high school English teacher with little hope of advancement. Perhaps contributing to his career problems, Paul is indecisive. Kill himself or just walk away—why not flip a coin? Paul’s life is spared through the intervention of a mysterious woman who he impulsively follows on a madcap adventure which ends up averting a potential mass murder on San Francisco’s Embarcadero. Only after, does he learn her name, Tali. She agrees to meet him for dinner the next day and explain everything.

Paul shows up at the restaurant, but Tali doesn’t. Has he been stood up? He knows next to nothing about Tali—not even her last name, but after some time on the Internet following leads from their brief conversation the day before he discovers a curious book by a recently-retired Stanford physics professor titled Fate and Consciousness—hardly the topics you’d expect one with his background to expound upon. After reading some of the odd text, he decides to go to the source.

This launches Paul into an series of adventures which cause him to question the foundations of reality: to what extent do we really have free will, and how much is the mindless gears of determinism turning toward the inevitable? Why does the universe seem to “fight back” when we try to impose our will upon it? Is there a “force”, and can we detect disturbances in it and act upon them? (The technology described in the story is remarkably similar to the one to which I have contributed to developing and deploying off and on for the last twenty years.) If such a thing could be done, who might be willing to kill to obtain the power it would confer? Is the universe a passive player in the unfolding of the future, or an active and potentially ruthless agent?

All of these questions are explored in a compelling story with plenty of action as Paul grapples with the mysteries confronting him, incorporating prior discoveries into the emerging picture. This is an entertaining, rewarding, and thought-provoking read which, although entirely fiction, may not be any more weird than the universe we inhabit.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Kroese, Robert. Schrödinger’s Gat. Seattle: CreateSpace, 2012. ISBN 978-1-4903-1821-9.


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“Children of Time” book review

This is a plausible and very entertaining book by Adrian Tchaikovsky, which I read as the Kindle edition. I will go so far as to say it is in the tradition of some of the finest classic science fiction, like that of Arthur C. Clarke. The science is all plausible by today’s anticipations of what will likely exist in the medium to long-term future.

Earth has had its day; the Old Empire – near God-like in its capabilities – has fallen and the survivors on Earth succeed in only partially reclaiming  their predecessors’ capabilities. Among such capacities were interstellar travel and terraforming distant planets within the galaxy. The story begins with Dr. Avrana Kern, eventually the last survivor aboard the Brin 2 satellite, an experimental station whose mission is to accelerate long-term evolution of life on “her”planet, which had been previously terraformed by the Old Empire; her goal was”to seed the universe with all the wonders of Earth” and become a god in so doing. She became progressively megalomaniacal over two millennia; her evolving status – both as perceived by herself and by others – is a twisting and interesting commentary in its own right, though not an essential to the plot.

Her mission was to send a population of monkeys (which were suspended in cold stasis, as were all interstellar travelers) down to the surface, then accelerate and guide their evolution through use of an engineered nano-virus which was to be separately sent down, designed to infect the monkey population only.  However, an unknown member of NUN in her crew (non ultra natura – a group which vehemently opposed seeding the universe with humans, engineered or not), sabotages the re-entry. The monkeys are all destroyed, but the flask containing the virus reaches the planet intact, and has long-term tremendous, unanticipated results. The creators of the virus never imagined it might infect other species. The effect of the virus on spiders – whose existence on the planet was unknown to Dr. Kern (she was unsure whether some of the monkeys might have survived the sabotage) was dramatic, indeed, and this forms the warp on which the entire compelling story is beautifully woven. Dr. Kern waited a thousand years or so in and occasionally out of stasis, to be awakened finally by the Brin 2’s AI when her monkeys finally “phone home,” i.e. contact her when they became sufficiently cognitively advanced.

Told along with our introduction to Dr. Kern and the beginnings of her God complex, is the story of Earth’s destruction in a final war between the NUN’s and those who were about the business of seeding the universe with life. The fact that weapons had advanced but human restraint had not led to the end times. These events form merely the background for the story of what happens over a few millennia after Earth’s demise on and near “Kern’s planet.”

Much of the tale is told from the point of view of Dr. Holsten Mason, the classicist of the Key Crew of the starship Gilgamesh. His role was to understand history of the Old Empire and translate its dead language as the need arose (with Dr. Kern, for instance). The ‘cargo’ consists of 500,000 humans in deep cold stasis. Key Crew, on the other hand, are intermittently awakened by the ship’s AI, when specified or unexpected events occur. Gilgamesh attains speeds a large fraction of light speed over two thousand years by virtue of compact and near-limitless fusion reactors which power the ship.

Throughout, this book thoughtfully explores many aspects of human nature, both in the words of the well-fleshed-out characters and in their (and their society’s) deeds. Juxtaposition of human against the non-human nature of highly-evolved characters of different species, gives free reign to the author’s profound and literate insights into life’s possibilities and meaning generally and into various possible futures for humanity as well.

As a ‘meanings junkie’ and one who cannot help but ponder the long-term future of humanity, I found this to be thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking. It is truly awe-inspiring. A Must Read!


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This Week’s Book Review – Though Hell Should Bar the Way

Book Review

‘Though Hell Should Bar the Way’ a vastly entertaining book

By MARK LARDAS

Apr 17, 2018

“Though Hell Should Bar the Way,” by David Drake, Baen Books, 2018, 416 pages, $25

David Drake has been writing the Royal Cinnabar Navy (RCN) series of space opera novels for 20 years.

“Though Hell Should Bar the Way,” by David Drake, is the series’ 12th novel. In it, Drake resets the series without replacing the main characters, injecting fresh life into an enjoyable space opera series.

In ways the novel is the standard RNC tale. Capt. Daniel Leary, hero of the RCN, and his partner, librarian (and spy) Adele Mundy, are sent to the back of the beyond to serve Cinnabar’s interests in an undercover activity. The pair face intrigues from political rivals within Cinnabar and Cinnabar’s chief interstellar rival, the totalitarian Alliance of Free Stars. Space and land battles result. Cinnabar’s enemies are defeated.

It is great stuff for those who like that brand of science fiction. For careless authors, series like this often fall into predictable repetition.

David Drake is a careful author.

Leary and Mundy are off to Saguntum, carrying a foreign ministry delegation aboard the transport Sun Ray. Leary is short an officer. His wife has a distant cousin, Roy Olfetrie. Down on his luck, and out of work. Olfetrie dropped out of the naval academy after his father, a RCN supplier was unmasked cheating the Navy. He is a competent spaceman, and distant family. Olfetrie is offered a junior officer’s berth.

The twist? This story is told from the point of view of Roy Olfetrie. Daniel Leary, Aldele Mundy, and their happy crew of spacers — all so familiar to the readers — are strangers to Olfetrie. They are reintroduced through Olfetrie’s eyes.

Olfetrie is more junior than Leary was when the series’ first novel was written, and in his way, just as competent. Drake sends Olfetrie off on independent adventures of the type Leary did as a junior officer, while still following the main characters.

As usual, Drake borrows from history, drawing heavily on the Barbary pirates of the 18th century.

“Though Hell Should Bar the Way” is vastly entertaining, a tale that demonstrates Drake’s skill as an author, illustrating why Drake is one of the best living science fiction authors today.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.


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Scott Adams – thinks that computers will control humans more and more

Scott Adams has an interesting notion. It’s here on his periscope session: https://www.periscope.tv/ScottAdamsSays/1OyJANrjrpwxb

He says that initially humans control computers in almost everything but as things move along that we will get our instructions from computers. Here’s his reasoning in one example: Alexa (or Siri) gets a question that it can’t answer (and if this same question gets repeated, I assume) it is turned over to humans to resolve the complicated bits and an answer is supplied. Eventually, he’s saying, humans will be online ready to handle the unanswerable queries, they will do the research (or from their own knowledge) and supply Alexa with the answer in real time and she will provide the answer to whoever wants to know.

I started thinking that this is a bit paranoid but really it does make sense that a lot of decision making at the corporate level and government level might be put into an AI application that sends out tasks to us humans. It all comes down to the domain of possible decisions being implemented that are not highly nuanced (most are) but need a large amount of information to be able to decide. Computers might do this better eventually. The point is that we might just get an email from the AI system that will launch us on a special task.

The movie, “The Matrix” was stupid to take a wonderful idea and go so ridiculously dystopian in its plot that the humans were only there to provide energy.

I’m sure that some of you geeks are better informed on this subject but I find I’m intrigued by this and I don’t think it’s such a bad thing to happen. Probably things will be better if this happens.

I’m an Arthur C. Clarke devotee and a Steven Spielberg fan about science. I have always been upset with the fact that most SF movies are actually recast horror movies.


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This Week’s Book Review – Sins of Her Father

I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review normally appears Wednesdays. When it appears, I post the review here on the following Sunday.

Seawriter

Book Review

An action-packed adventure following the previous novel

By MARK LARDAS

Mar 27, 2018

“Sins of Her Father,” by Mike Kupari, Baen Books, 2018, 352 pages, $16

Capt. Catherine Blackwood is back. The captain was the central character in Mike Kupari’s space adventure “Her Brother’s Keeper.”

“Sins of Her Father,” by Mike Kupari, brings Blackwood and her privateer spaceship into a new science fiction story.

Ithaca, a colony world, has been beset by inept revolutionaries for nearly a generation. After overthrowing the previous monarchy they have run the planet with staggering incompetence.

In desperation, they are turning to the Orlov Combine for assistance. The Orlov Combine is what you would get if you multiplied Soviet Russia by Nazi Germany. It treats its people like cattle, but it has promised, pinkie swear, it will respect Ithaca’s internal sovereignty if Ithaca joins.

When the Ithacan revolution started, Zander Kycek was its leader. He won the war through an act so brutal he was forced into exile. He left his daughter behind. She is now part of a group seeking to stop Ithaca from joining the Orlov Combine — launching a second revolution to overthrow the current government. She wants her father to return and help lead the fight.

Kycek is willing to return, but he is on Heinlein, a planet far distant from Ithaca. If he takes a passenger spaceship Ithaca’s government would kill him. They tried to kill him while he is on Heinlein. He needs a warship.

Catherine Blackwood and her ship, Andromeda, are on Heinlein, having finished expensive repairs and adding new crew to replace the casualties from her previous engagement. Providing armed passenger service is not work she normally does, but work is scarce and she needs employment. She agrees to take Kycek to Ithaca.

Blackwood and Andromeda have their own history with the Orlov Combine. It wants Blackwood and Andromeda destroyed. It also wants Kycek dead. Blackwood’s mission evolves as a result. Plus, Ithaca is not inhabited only by humans. It has sentient natives, who are willing to fight the existing government alongside the human anti-Orlev faction.

“Sins of Her Father” offers a fast paced and exciting story. Kupari weaves together a complex series of threads to form as entertaining an adventure as his first.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

Note: I have decided to cross-post my reviews on Ratburger and Ricochet. There are two reasons:

  1. I do not need to worry about getting twelve likes to make the review available to the world at large on Ratburger
  2. I can format the review the way I like on Ratburger and transfer the formatting to Ricochet – useful since they have disabled header formatting and indent on Ricochet.

Why crosspost instead of switching? Because there are Ricochet members who are not on Ratburger, and some of them read my reviews.


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Book Review: Starship Grifters

“Starship Grifters” by Robert KroeseThis is the funniest science fiction novel I have read in quite a while. Set in the year 3013, not long after galactic civilisation barely escaped an artificial intelligence apocalypse and banned fully self-aware robots, the story is related by Sasha, one of a small number of Self-Arresting near Sentient Heuristic Androids built to be useful without running the risk of their taking over. SASHA robots are equipped with an impossible-to-defeat watchdog module which causes a hard reboot whenever they are on the verge of having an original thought. The limitation of the design proved a serious handicap, and all of their manufacturers went bankrupt. Our narrator, Sasha, was bought at an auction by the protagonist, Rex Nihilo, for thirty-five credits in a lot of “ASSORTED MACHINE PARTS”. Sasha is Rex’s assistant and sidekick.

Rex is an adventurer. Sasha says he “never had much of an interest in anything but self-preservation and the accumulation of wealth, the latter taking clear precedence over the former.” Sasha’s built in limitations (in addition to the new idea watchdog, she is unable to tell a lie, but if humans should draw incorrect conclusions from incomplete information she provides them, well…) pose problems in Rex’s assorted lines of work, most of which seem to involve scams, gambling, and contraband of various kinds. In fact, Rex seems to fit in very well with the universe he inhabits, which appears to be firmly grounded in Walker’s Law: “Absent evidence to the contrary, assume everything is a scam”. Evidence appears almost totally absent, and the oppressive tyranny called the Galactic Malarchy, those who supply it, the rebels who oppose it, entrepreneurs like Rex working in the cracks, organised religions and cults, and just about everybody else, appear to be on the make or on the take, looking to grift everybody else for their own account. Cosmologists attribute this to the “Strong Misanthropic Principle, which asserts that the universe exists in order to screw with us.” Rex does his part, although he usually seems to veer between broke and dangerously in debt.

Perhaps that’s due to his somewhat threadbare talent stack. As Shasha describes him, Rex doesn’t have a head for numbers. Nor does he have much of a head for letters, and “Newtonian physics isn’t really his strong suit either”. He is, however, occasionally lucky, or so it seems at first. In an absurdly high-stakes card game with weapons merchant Gavin Larviton, reputed to be one of the wealthiest men in the galaxy, Rex manages to win, almost honestly, not only Larviton’s personal starship, but an entire planet, Schnufnaasik Six. After barely escaping a raid by Malarchian marines led by the dread and squeaky-voiced Lord Heinous Vlaak, Rex and Sasha set off in the ship Rex has won, the Flagrante Delicto, to survey the planetary prize.

It doesn’t take Rex long to discover, not surprisingly, that he’s been had, and that his financial situation is now far more dire than he’d previously been able to imagine. If any of the bounty hunters now on his trail should collar him, he could spend a near-eternity on the prison planet of Gulagatraz (the names are a delight in themselves). So, it’s off the rebel base on the forest moon (which is actually a swamp; the swamp moon is all desert) to try to con the Frente Repugnante (all the other names were taken by rival splinter factions, so they ended up with “Revolting Front”, which was translated to Spanish to appear to Latino planets) into paying for a secret weapon which exists only in Rex’s imagination.

Thus we embark upon a romp which has a laugh-out-loud line about every other page. This is comic science fiction in the vein of Keith Laumer‘s Retief stories. As with Laumer, Kroese achieves the perfect balance of laugh lines, plot development, interesting ideas, and recurring gags (there’s a planet-destroying weapon called the “plasmatic entropy cannon” which the oft-inebriated Rex refers to variously as the “positronic endoscopy cannon”, “pulmonary embolism cannon”, “ponderosa alopecia cannon”, “propitious elderberry cannon”, and many other ways). There is a huge and satisfying reveal at the end—I kind of expected one was coming, but I’d have never guessed the details.

If reading this leaves you with an appetite for more Rex Nihilo, there is a prequel novella, The Chicolini Incident, and a sequel, Aye, Robot.

The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Kroese, Robert. Starship Grifters. Seattle: 47North, 2014. ISBN 978-1-4778-1848-0.


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Book Review: Artemis

“Artemis” by Andy WeirSeldom has a first-time novelist burst onto the scene so spectacularly as Andy Weir with The Martian. Originally written for his own amusement and circulated chapter by chapter to a small but enthusiastic group of fans who provided feedback and suggestions as the story developed, he posted the completed novel as a free download on his Web site. Some people who had heard of it by word of mouth but lacked the technical savvy to download documents and transfer them to E-readers inquired whether he could make a Kindle version available. Since you can’t give away Kindle books, he published it at the minimum possible price. Before long, the book was rising into the Amazon bestseller list in science fiction, and he was contacted by a major publisher about doing a print edition. These publishers only accept manuscripts through agents, and he didn’t have one (nor do agents usually work with first-time authors, which creates a chicken-and-egg problem for the legacy publishing industry), so the publisher put him in touch with a major agent and recommended the manuscript. This led to a 2014 hardcover edition and then a Hollywood movie in 2016 which was nominated for 7 Oscars and won two Golden Globes including Best Motion Picture and Best Performance by an Actor in its category.

The question fans immediately asked themselves was, “Is this a one shot, or can he repeat?” Well, I think we have the answer: with Artemis, Andy Weir has delivered another story of grand master calibre and shown himself on track to join the ranks of the legends of the genre.

In the latter part of the 21st century commerce is expanding into space, and the Moon is home to Artemis, a small settlement of around 2000 permanent residents, situated in the southern part of the Sea of Tranquility, around 40 km from the Apollo 11 landing site. A substantial part of the economy of Artemis is based upon wealthy tourists who take the train from Artemis to the Apollo 11 Visitor Center (where they can look, but not touch or interfere with the historical relics) and enjoy the luxuries and recreations which cater to them back in the pleasure domes.

Artemis is the creation of the Kenya Space Corporation (KSC), which officially designates it “Kenya Offshore Platform Artemis” and operates under international maritime law. As space commerce burgeoned in the 21st century, Kenya’s visionary finance minister, Fidelis Ngugi, leveraged Kenya’s equatorial latitude (it’s little appreciated that once reliable fully-reusable launch vehicles are developed, there’s no need to launch over water) and hands-off regulatory regime provided a golden opportunity for space entrepreneurs to escape the nanny state regulation and crushing tax burden of “developed” countries. With tax breaks and an African approach to regulation, entrepreneurs and money flowed in from around the world, making Kenya into a space superpower and enriching its economy and opportunities for its people. Twenty years later Ngugi was Administrator of Artemis; she was, in effect, ruler of the Moon.

While Artemis was a five star experience for the tourists which kept its economy humming, those who supported the settlement and its industries lived in something more like a frontier boom town of the 19th century. Like many such settlements, Artemis attracted opportunity-seekers and those looking to put their pasts behind them from many countries and cultures. Those established tend to attract more like them, and clannish communities developed around occupations: most people in Life Support were Vietnamese, while metal-working was predominantly Hungarian. For whatever reason, welding was dominated by Saudis, including Ammar Bashara, who emigrated to Artemis with his six-year old daughter Jasmine. Twenty years later, Ammar runs a prosperous welding business and Jasmine (“Jazz”) is, shall we say, more irregularly employed.

Artemis is an “energy intense” Moon settlement of the kind described in Steven D. Howe’s Honor Bound Honor Born. The community is powered by twin 27 megawatt nuclear reactors located behind a berm one kilometre from the main settlement. The reactors not only provide constant electricity and heat through the two week nights and days of the Moon, they power a smelter which processes the lunar regolith into raw materials. The Moon’s crust is about 40% oxygen, 20% silicon, 12% iron, and 8% aluminium. With abundant power, these elements can be separated and used to manufacture aluminium and iron for structures, glass from silicon and oxygen, and all with abundant left-over oxygen to breathe. There is no need for elaborate recycling of oxygen: there’s always plenty more coming out of the smelter. Many denizens of Artemis subsist largely on “gunk”, an algae-based food grown locally in vats which is nutritious but unpalatable and monotonous. There are a variety of flavours, all of which are worse than the straight stuff.

Jazz works as a porter. She picks up things somewhere in the settlement and delivers them to their destinations using her personally-owned electric-powered cart. Despite the indigenous production of raw materials, many manufactured goods and substances are imported from Earth or factories in Earth orbit, and every time a cargo ship arrives, business is brisk for Jasmine and her fellow porters. Jazz is enterprising and creative, and has a lucrative business on the side: smuggling. Knowing the right people in the spaceport and how much to cut them in, she has a select clientele to which she provides luxury goods from Earth which aren’t on the approved customs manifests.

For this, she is paid in “slugs”. No, not slimy molluscs, but “soft-landed grams”, credits which can be exchanged to pay KSC to deliver payload from Earth to Artemis. Slugs act as a currency, and can be privately exchanged among individuals’ handheld computers much as Bitcoin today. Jazz makes around 12,000 slugs a month as a porter, and more, although variable, from her more entrepreneurial sideline.

One of her ultra-wealthy clients approaches her with a highly illegal, almost certainly unethical, and very likely perilous proposal. Surviving for as long as she has in her risky business has given Jazz a sense for where the edge is and the good sense not to step over it.

“I’m sorry but this isn’t my thing. You’ll have to find someone else.”

“I’ll offer you a million slugs.”

“Deal.”

Thus begins an adventure in which Jazz has to summon all of her formidable intellect, cunning, and resources, form expedient alliances with unlikely parties, solve a technological mystery, balance honour with being a outlaw, and discover the economic foundation of Artemis, which is nothing like it appears from the surface. All of this is set in a richly textured and believable world which we learn about as the story unfolds: Weir is a master of “show, don’t tell”. And it isn’t just a page-turning thriller (although that it most certainly is); it’s also funny, and in the right places and amount.

This is where I’d usually mention technical goofs and quibbles. I’ll not do that because I didn’t find any. The only thing I’m not sure about is Artemis’ using a pure oxygen atmosphere at 20% of Earth sea-level pressure. This works for short- and moderate-duration space missions, and was used in the U.S. Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. For exposure to pure oxygen longer than two weeks, a phenomenon called absorption atelectasis can develop, which is the collapse of the alveoli in the lungs due to complete absorption of the oxygen gas (see this NASA report [PDF]). The presence of a biologically inert gas such as nitrogen, helium, argon, or neon will keep the alveoli inflated and prevent this phenomenon. The U.S. Skylab missions used an atmosphere of 72% oxygen and 28% nitrogen to avoid this risk, and the Soviet Salyut and Mir space stations used a mix of nitrogen and oxygen with between 21% and 40% oxygen. The Space Shuttle and International Space Station use sea-level atmospheric pressure with 21% oxygen and the balance nitrogen. The effects of reduced pressure on the boiling point of water and the fire hazard of pure oxygen even at reduced pressure are accurately described, but I’m not sure the physiological effects of a pure oxygen atmosphere for long-term habitation have been worked through.

Nitpicking aside, this is a techno-thriller which is also an engaging human story, set in a perfectly plausible and believable future where not only the technology but the economics and social dynamics work. We may just be welcoming another grand master to the pantheon.

Weir, Andy. Artemis. New York: Crown, 2017. ISBN 978-0-553-44812-2.

This is a talk by Andy Weir at Google in December 2017 about his writing career, The Martian, and Artemis.


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Book Review: The Hidden Truth

“The Hidden Truth” by Hans G. SchantzThis is a masterpiece of alternative history techno-thriller science fiction. It is rich in detail, full of interesting characters who interact and develop as the story unfolds, sound in the technical details which intersect with our world, insightful about science, technology, economics, government and the agenda of the “progressive” movement, and plausible in its presentation of the vast, ruthless, and shadowy conspiracy which lies under the surface of its world. And, above all, it is charming—these are characters you’d like to meet, even some of the villains because you want understand what motivates them.

The protagonist and narrator is a high school junior (senior later in the tale), son of an electrical engineer who owns his own electrical contracting business, married to a chemist, daughter of one of the most wealthy and influential families in their region of Tennessee, against the wishes of her parents. (We never learn the narrator’s name until the last page of the novel, so I suppose it would be a spoiler if I mentioned it here, so I won’t, even if it makes this review somewhat awkward.) Our young narrator wants to become a scientist, and his father not only encourages him in his pursuit, but guides him toward learning on his own by reading the original works of great scientists who actually made fundamental discoveries rather than “suffering through the cleaned-up and dumbed-down version you get from your teachers and textbooks.” His world is not ours: Al Gore, who won the 2000 U.S. presidential election, was killed in the 2001-09-11 attacks on the White House and Capitol, and President Lieberman pushed through the “Preserving our Planet’s Future Act”, popularly known as the “Gore Tax”, in his memory, and its tax on carbon emissions is predictably shackling the economy.

Pursuing his study of electromagnetism from original sources, he picks up a copy at the local library of a book published in 1909. The library was originally the collection of a respected institute of technology until destroyed by innovative educationalists and their pointy-headed progressive ideas. But the books remained, and in one of them, he reads an enigmatic passage about Oliver Heaviside having developed a theory of electromagnetic waves bouncing off one another in free space, which was to be published in a forthcoming book. This didn’t make any sense: electromagnetic waves add linearly, and while they can be reflected and refracted by various media, in free space they superpose without interaction. He asks his father about the puzzling passage, and they look up the scanned text on-line and find the passage he read missing. Was his memory playing tricks?

So, back to the library where, indeed, the version of the book there contains the mention of bouncing waves. And yet the publication date and edition number of the print and on-line books were identical. As Isaac Asimov observed, many great discoveries aren’t heralded by an exclamation of “Eureka!” but rather “That’s odd.” This was odd….

Soon, other discrepancies appear, and along with his best friend and computer and Internet wizard Amit Patel, he embarks on a project to scan original print editions of foundational works on electromagnetism from the library and compare them with on-line versions of these public domain works. There appears to be a pattern: mentions of Heaviside’s bouncing waves appear to have been scrubbed out of the readily-available editions of these books (print and on-line), and remain only in dusty volumes in forgotten provincial libraries.

As their investigations continue, it’s increasingly clear they have swatted a hornets’ nest. Fake feds start to follow their trail, with bogus stories of “cyber-terrorism”. And tragically, they learn that those who dig too deeply into these curiosities have a way of meeting tragic ends. Indeed, many of the early researchers into electromagnetism died young: Maxwell at age 48, Hertz at 36, FitzGerald at 39. Was there a vast conspiracy suppressing some knowledge about electromagnetism? And if so, what was the hidden truth, and why was it so important to them they were willing to kill to keep it hidden? It sure looked like it, and Amit started calling them “EVIL”: the Electromagnetic Villains International League.

The game gets deadly, and deadly serious. The narrator and Amit find some powerful and some ambiguous allies, learn about how to deal with the cops and other authority figures, and imbibe a great deal of wisdom about individuality, initiative, and liberty. There’s even an attempt to recruit our hero to the dark side of collectivism where its ultimate anti-human agenda is laid bare. Throughout there are delightful tips of the hat to libertarian ideas, thinkers, and authors, including some as obscure as a reference to the Books on Benefit bookshop in Providence, Rhode Island.

The author is an inventor, entrepreneur, and scientist. He writes, “I appreciate fiction that shows how ordinary people with extraordinary courage and determination can accomplish remarkable achievements.” Mission accomplished. As the book ends, the central mystery remains unresolved. The narrator vows to get to the bottom of it and avenge those destroyed by the keepers of the secret. In a remarkable afterword and about the author section, there is a wonderful reading list for those interested in the technical topics discussed in the book and fiction with similarly intriguing and inspiring themes. When it comes to the technical content of the book, the author knows of what he writes: he has literally written the book on the design of ultrawideband antennas and is co-inventor of Near Field Electromagnetic Ranging (NFER), which you can think of as “indoor GPS”.

For a self-published work, there are only a few copy editing errors (“discrete” where “discreet” was intended, and “Capital” for “Capitol”). The Kindle edition is free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. A sequel is now available: A Rambling Wreck which takes our hero and the story to—where else?—Georgia Tech. I shall certainly read that book. Meanwhile, go read the present volume; if your tastes are anything like mine, you’re going to love it.

Schantz, Hans G. The Hidden Truth. Huntsville, AL: ÆtherCzar, 2016. ISBN 978-1-5327-1293-7.


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