Twistor, John Cramer

Avon, 1989 (1998 reprint), 338 pages, C$7.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-380-71027-7

Even though I usually borrow the books I review from the library, or otherwise acquire them at used bookstores, I’m still a firm believer in the voting power of a dollar. You might see me reading a Harlequin romance, but you’ll never catch me buying such a book. Looking back at the past six months, the list of authors I’ve bought in new bookstores (excluding French-language books) goes like this: Greg Egan (x3), John Cramer (x2), Robert J. Sawyer (x2), Charles Pellegrino, Bruce Sterling, John Varley, Thomas M. Disch, Peter David, Joe Haldeman, Stephen Bury, Paul di Filippo… It’s no coincidence if most of those authors best represent my idea of SF.

The relationship has two components, of course: I’m buying a book from a good author to support him, because s/he usually writes a book good enough to make me feel my money was well-spent. Charles Pellegrino’s Dust, for instance, contains so much stuff that it’s almost a bargain to buy the hardcover at full price.

It’s a bit of an overkill to speak of an author as “reliable” after only two books, but John Cramer is exactly the kind of author that I want to support with my hard-earned dollars. A working physicist by day, Cramer dons his secret identity by night and writes ultra-hard science-fiction for the enjoyment of (mostly) everyone.

In a field too often dominated by hand-waving technobabble at even the most basic level (think “Star Trek”, for instance), it’s refreshing to see some true SF where the magic is carefully confined to a far-away place. The technobabble isn’t gone, but it sure sounds better.

In Twistor, we get a story that has been done a few times already: A scientist discovers a way to switch a volume of space between various alternate universes. While he works on this revolutionary discovery, a greedy businessman and a non-less greedy supervisor try to wrestle the discovery away from him…

Familiar territory, but it’s all in the execution. The first virtue of Twistor is to establish its credibility with a careful assortment of details and of real-life procedures. Even though we’re still dealing with a scientist-and-his-female-assistant, the verisimilitude of this cliché isn’t as grating as could have been, given that the female assistant is a very strong character, and the relationship is initially explained as a teacher/graduate student situation.

What may be the biggest difference between Twistor and inferior SF is that the author is willing to play the game of “Yeah, but…” with the reader. It’s a blast to think of objections to the plotting… and then to see them answered two of three pages later. (eg; the section taken out of the tree affecting its stability) Less rigorous writers usually ignore these objection; Cramer confronts them head-on and the novel feels even more real because of that. He’s also willing to explore all the possibilities of his initial premise.

Like most hard-SF, Twistor has the usual flaws in writing and dialogue. It should be worth noting that even if Cramer isn’t a stylist on the order of, say, Kim Stanley Robinson, he does have a stronger grasp of plotting and characterisation than his hard-SF colleagues.

It should be obvious by now that I’m encouraging you to vote with your dollars, so rush out and buy Twistor if you feel that hard-SF is your cup of tea. While you’re at the bookstore, pick up a copy of Cramer’s second novel, Einstein’s Bridge for a pair of books that will not only give you faith in contemporary SF, but provide you with a few hours of very enjoyable entertainment.

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