||I like this kind of
character drama, where the people are also involved in doing physics.
The author intertwines physics and
characters really well. In true fashion of hard science fiction, the
science is presented in detail, and it is very convincing. Who knows
whether the theories will be very wrong in the future, or perhaps right?
The author has taken a very real phenomenon, probability, and given it
some basis. As she has her characters say at one point, certain things
occur with a certain probability. Take a large enough statistical
sample, and it will always occur with the same probability. Why? Nobody
knows. So one of the characters postulates the "probon", analogous to
the graviton (still unproven in our time) and other bases that transmit
the fundamental forces through the universe.
The main characters here are Lyle
Kaufman, an Army Colonel overseeing the project, the physicist Tom
Capelo, and the special genetically modified Sensitive, who can read
other people's emotional state by observing their body language. The
other characters are incidental, including the main ones from
Back in Probability Moon, we were
introduced to World, and their native population, which were socially
restrained because of Shared Reality, such that nauseating headaches
would occur if people did not agree on what was happening. They declared
humans Unreal because they did not share reality, but because one
character gave his life for the natives, to protect them against the
blast at the end of the book, humans were declared real again. Of
course, we discover early in this book that the blast didn't affect
World in the slightest, even though the rest of the bodies in its solar
system were turned radioactive. They speculate that the artifact that
Gruber found in the tunnels in the mountains protected World, and
through several tests, they are proven correct.
Most of the plot concerns how the
people go about testing the artefact, and whether it responds correctly.
Everybody does their jobs to the best of their abilities, and the
conflict comes about not because they are at each others' throats or
from an outside threat, but simply because their jobs conflict. Being
part of a military expedition means that they know the hierarchy,
especially since they are at a state of war. When they go too far with
their demands or their work, they pay the price, with barely a protest.
My favorite character was the gruff
Capelo. I thought he would become a character that I loved to hate, but
I was wrong. He was gruff with everybody, mainly because he had trouble
explaining himself to laymen -it was wasted effort, better spent
thinking up solutions to physics problems. He and the other scientists
dig up the artefact, test it on World, take it into space to test it
some more, return it to World for more tests, and finally take it away
to help protect Earth's solar system.
The protection settings raise serious
questions. If firing a nuclear blast onto the opposite side of the
planet does nothing when the artefact is activated, does that mean
nobody can fire a weapon on the planet at all? Or is it only external
weapons? Will the military have trouble keeping order, not being able to
use their weapons in the Sol system?
The artefact is also responsible for
the Worlders' shared reality, an inadvertent by-product. By taking some
of them off the planet, Ann (a main character from the last book) shows
how quickly corruption sets in. Voratur was ready to steal some of the
profits from their bargain as soon as he realized that shared reality
was gone, relenting only because he knew it would return back on World.
When the artefact is taken off World for good, chaos begins to set in.
As Ann said, they are about to enter their Dark Ages, where cities
isolate themselves, and criminals (who didn't exist before) become more
bold. We only see a little of what happens, but it is a sad state of
affairs. Protecting Earth from the Fallers requires destroying the
culture of World. Is it justified? That should be debated for centuries.
But it can be argued, and the military obviously takes this view, that
because humans are more technologically advanced, and more spread out,
that they are of more value. Of course, World is unique, doesn't have
colonies that they could hide away on, and they have a selfless culture
-they had one, that is. Leaving Ann and Gruber on the surface with Enli
and some others hopefully means that we will get to see more of the
evolution of World in the third book, Probability Space.
It is the presentation of the good
conflicts, and situations with no good answers, that make this trilogy
The third plot, after the artefact and
shared reality's demise, is the interrogation of a Faller prisoner by
Marbet. There is a small love story, completely unrequited until the
end, between Lyle and Marbet, which was quite touching, especially since
his emotions conflicted so much with his duties -and he had to put her
in the brig for treason! I didn't understand why a Faller would be so
interested in a human child, so the capture was less interesting for me.
The interrogation took place necessarily behind the scenes, too, because
only a Sensitive could distinguish body features so alien.
The most interesting parts of this take
place as interactions between Lyle and Marbet. After he gets used to her
being nude as part of her work, he begins to trust her, granting her
more and more leeway in her work. I wondered at the possibility of the
Faller knowing so much about their new shield technology. For a layman
it seemed that he knew too much. But they managed to capture a
physicist! This guy must have worked on an artefact found by their
people. Maybe we were too lucky to find this guy, and keep him alive.
Apparently not all Fallers are quick to suicide.
Marbet gets thrown in jail after
showing the Faller that humans have found an artefact of their own. Lyle
was too quick at that, apparently, because he needed to know some major
details before he stopped Marbet from ever seeing the Faller again.
Stuck, I wondered if that was the end of that project. But another minor
point cleared it up for us, getting Lyle out of his jam, at least
I had hoped from the very beginning
that Capelo's children were along in the book for a good reason. They
didn't intrude too much into a dangerous plot where, as the other
characters state, they don't belong. But they get along with Marbet, and
one inadvertently hears Marbet talking about the Faller with another of
the team. Capelo's wife was killed in a Faller attack, so he becomes
livid when he finds out. After becoming subdued, he breaks Marbet out of
the brig and has her lead him to the Faller, which he intends to kill.
Lyle predicts all of this wonderfully, so he is waiting, to foil
Capelo's plan and to allow Marbet to continue her work for a short
while until the Navy figures out about the jailbreak. Capelo becomes more interested in the physics than killing the
Faller, and right before they are all thrown into custody, they learn
that activating two devices on the highest setting in the same system
could destroy the fabric of space-time!
With that knowledge, Capelo, when he is
subdued and locked in his quarters again, works out some of the
fundamental equations for the physics involved. When they get back to
Mars, their results outweigh their actions, and nobody goes to jail. As
contrived as this sounds, it is actually pulled off quite reasonably.
The leader of the military is quite scary, and has way too much power. I
wonder how that will play out, if at all, in the next book.
A lot of useful technology has come
into being by the time of this novel, and I love the way it is taken for
granted. Humanity has developed nanotechnology to a level where nanobots
can manipulate individual atoms, level out caves, create mono-filament
wire one atom thick, and disintegrate the immobilizing spray. String
theory is the central physics concept which is taken as a given, and from
which everything else is derived. A grand unified theory of forces is in
And then there are the space tunnels, which
nobody knows how to operate, and which can be rather confusing to
explain. But they work, so nobody really cares.
This book has most of everything, from
a real science plot, interaction with aliens, and good interactions
between characters, who all act professionally. I'm not sure why I
waited so long between the first two books, but I don't plan to wait
long before finishing the trilogy.