Tag Archives: John Cramer

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.

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.