Einstein’s Bridge, John Cramer

Avon/EOS, 1997, 310 pages, C$3.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-78831-4

A 3.99 $Can. paperback which proclaims “A Novel of Hard Science Fiction” on the cover. How could I resist?

As part of their initial launch program, Avon/EOS is releasing one title per month at a low, low (3.99$) price. This is a great marketing gimmick, especially if you’re already on the edge of buying the book. Einstein’s Bridge had been getting favorable comments (for a hard-SF novel) So it wasn’t much of a decision to buy the book on an impulsion.

Fortunately, Einstein’s Bridge would have been well-spent money, even at regular price. While saddled with the usual problems of hard-SF written by practicing scientists, it’s also a fairly good novel of pure SF.

Einstein’s Bridge initially takes place at the beginning of the twenty-first century and stars physicians working at the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) in Waxahachie, Texas. During a routine experiment, weird things happen, a few laws of physics are broken and evidence of extra-terrestrial life is found. Then we move on to the really interesting stuff.

Readers with at least a passing interest in Science will probably state at this point in time that there will be not such thing as a SSC in Waxahachie because the US government cancelled the project in 1994. They’re right. What does that tell you about the novel…?

Plotwise, Einstein’s Bridge fares pretty well, especially when compared to other ultra-hard-SF works, who tend to use generic plot templates as framework for their ideas. This novel has an unusual construction (caused by external factors, we gather from the introduction) and this is the source of a few unexpected plot developments. This is a novel where the ending isn’t painfully obvious from the beginning. (Even though the last fifty pages or so are more or less predictable.)

Cramer is a fairly good writer at the “top” level, but the novel’s weakest link is undoubtedly the dialogue. While we can’t know how everyone around the author talks, to the layman’s ears, the dialogue in Einstein’s Bridge seems overly burdened with unnecessary information, complex phrase construction and an absence of monosyllabic words. The worst example of this weakness comes at the very beginning of the novel, where two characters trade information that could have been directly cribbed from a travel guide. But as with most things, the forgiving reader will easily “tune out” this kind of weakness. It improves after a while, anyway. At this level, Cramer is easily better than Robert Forward.

There are also a few psychological unlikelinesses, but it seems almost unfair to judge Einstein’s Bridge on these stylistic criteria where the novel has so much more to offer. The science is seemingly exact, or at least convincingly faked. The description of the actual scientific process is one of the most realistic that I’ve read. Cramer also offers a persuasive argument for continued scientific progress, and relevant scientific commentary. The concepts and ideas are original, and plentiful: other novels will be stealing ideas from this book for years to come. The overall atmosphere is essentially SF: Die-hard fans of hard-SF (I am one, of course) will feel as if they’ve finally come home.

One negative aspect of the low price is the non-inclusion of a 50K+ political/scientific afterword. Instead, we get a short notice saying that the material is available on the Internet at the Avon/EOS site (http://www.avonbook.com/eos/). After reading the excellent afterword, I’d say it’s very, very sad that Avon/EOS had to cut this corner.

Overall, Einstein’s Bridge is an excellent hard-SF novel, easily overcoming its shortcomings by sheer imaginative power. In an age characterized by endless series of media-spin-off, new-age crap and endless fantasy trilogies, this is wonderful proof that hard-SF still has a place on the shelves of every bookseller. Cramer has the potential, given a few stylistic adjustments and a bit of luck, of becoming one of the next big things in SF. I intend to help make it happen.

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