Fiction Reviews


(2015) David Walton, Pyr, £12.99 / Can$18 / US$17.00, pbk, 301pp, ISBN 978-1-633-88098-6


This is a cracking, hard SF thriller that uses the sense of wonder – or perhaps in this case befuddlement – of quantum physics (or should that be quantum weirdness).

But before we get to the book, first a word about real-world developments. The really great thing about being around in the late 20th and early 21st century is that very little has happened in physics to supplant the Copenhagen Interpretation though we have succesfully made the Einstein–Podolsky–Rosen paradox even more paradoxical number of entanglement experiments (so-called teleportation and have even threatened to take quantum weirdness into our macroscopic world by entangling thousands of atoms at a time. And though we can now observe quantum wave function collapse (which promises much technological benefit).  But the really great thing is that there is so much debate, and so great the real-science wriggle room, that there is plenty of scope for wondrous hard-SF based on quantum theory.  Certainly, regular visitors of this site cannot have failed to see a sound sprinkling of quantum-related SF in SF2 Concatenation's Best of Nature 'Futures' be using the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics or the implication (by strict Einstein adherents) that were communication via entanglement were possible it would be like time travel with all sorts of implications for free will.

And so into all of this we get David Walton's Supersymmetry. The premise is simple (well, as simple as it ca get with quantum doobres). The military has taken an interest in a physicists quantum work to develop super-weaponry: bullets that can travel through solid matter before hitting their target. There are other spin-offs too such as teleportation and quantum copying. However, what the research scientist does not realise is that his technology has enabled a sentience from one of the lesser-known dimensions (in addition to the famous three of space and one of time) needed for string theory to work. (Sheldon Cooper explains it so much better.) It appears that this creature has been here (our plane of existence) before and it is after those that curtailed it the first time. Specifically it is after Sandra and Alex Kelly who are themselves a quantum split of Alessandra Kelly now living as separate individuals… I hope that you are getting all of this.

And if you think that all this is unbelievable, then think how it plays to the authorities who know Zilch about Everett's multiverse.. And as for the public, although they also know next to nothing about quantum physics, they know absolutely nothing of the new military technology being developed. And so, with a teed-off quantum sentience on the loose and our protagonists using research-based, prototype technology, events to many seem like terrorists are on the loose.

With these ingredients and plot set-up and Walton's writing brio, we get a hard-SF thriller that simply bowls along. Supersymmetry is a gung-ho adventure from start to finish. Please, do not be put off by the science. Yes, the quantum physics is there but it is not as impenetrable as say Hannu Rajaniemi or Greg Egan on a wonk-ish day. Walton successfully treads that fine line between giving enough for those with a science background to suspend their disbelief and enjoy a wild science flight of fancy, yet not too much for non-scientists to be left bewildered (they can simply enjoy the adventure as if it were fantasy, which is how I suspect many non-scientists view much SF).

I should point out that Supersymmetry is in fact a sequel (which I have not read) to Superposition. Here, while it soon becomes clear that Supersymmetry is a follow-up you do not have to read Superposition first: I found Supersymmetry sufficiently self-contained. Having said that, to get the best out of Walton, I would recommend you read Superposition before coming to this treat.

Jonathan Cowie

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