The Space Eater (1982)
Ken Jacklin is a professional soldier. He has died forty-six times, each time resurrected in a regeneration tank from his remains, each time losing a bit of himself. He is not afraid of dying. When given the chance to escape his training rut and stalled career by volunteering for what his recruiter calls a highly hazardous assignment, he seizes the opportunity immediately.
Sometime in the future, Earth is in shambles. The discovery of anomalous physics has played a part in some unfortunate events. AP, as it is called in short, allows the local rewriting of the traditional laws of physics. Quantum physics and relativity can be violated to stunning effect. The consequences, however, can be most severe, with the effects spreading instantly through the universe. Ever since the initial big experiments, the night sky has not been the same. There is also a chunk of a continent missing. After these unforgiving learning experiences, AP has been tamed and carefully weaponized, with only those AP applications in use that are safely limited to local effects.
Jacklin is paired up with Rossa Corman, a communications specialist with a unique relationship to pain and in her own way as twisted by her training as he is by his. Their mission: To travel to a lost colony whose inhabitants have started their own AP experiments, and convince them by any means necessary to drop their research in order to prevent potential catastrophe.
Much of the novel has a darkly satirical tone. Dysfunctional military bureaucracies and mad science make up the working environment of our protagonists who are kept in the dark as much as possible by their superiors. The stakes are high, oversight is scarce, and little value is assigned to an individual human life. People aren't evil per se; each person tries to do good, but the emerging structure of the system warps their efforts into so much nastiness. As the mission progresses, Jacklin and Corman slowly come to realize the degree to which they have been dehumanized and attempt to regain their conscience and feelings, while still trying to stave off an apocalypse.
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