Einstein's Bridge (1997)
It's the year 2004, and the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) has been built. Particle physicists are wrestling an understanding of the fundamental forces of the universe from nature's reluctant grip, creating energy densities approaching that of the conditions of the early Big Bang. Unbeknownst to them, their experiments are producing a beacon that crosses the borders of space-time, attracting the attention of highly advanced civilizations in neighboring universes. While the friendly "Makers" hasten to establish mutually beneficial contact, the aggressively expanding "Hive" rushes to plant the seed for shocktroops that would colonize this world and eradicate all indigenous life. The future of humanity and indeed the universe depends on who will be first to succeed.
"A hard science fiction novel" it says on the cover of my edition, and that it is. As a practicing experimental physicist, Cramer takes care that the science is right and the speculation is plausible. Neither willing to throw out the lightspeed limit, nor to set his story in a posthuman future, he resorts to the time-honored idea of other universes as a source for alien contact. The title refers to the Einstein-Rosen bridge, lately known simply as a wormhole, a little-understood solution of general relativity that provides a shortcut from one region of space-time to another.
I didn't mention any protagonists' names in the brief synopsis above for a good reason: the characters are rather perfunctory in Einstein's Bridge. It's the speculative physics, the general idea of interuniversal and alien contact, and the race against the Hive, that govern the interest of story. The book is slow going at the start and takes until about the middle to come up to tempo. When the actual contact is made, Cramer glosses over almost all of the procedure of decoding the initial message and establishing communications. I assume Cramer recognizes his limited expertise in this area and simply trusts that the SETI people have done their homework. Although I respect this, I can't help thinking that he has left out a part of major interest here.
A most captivating, alas only rudimentarilly developed concept in the novel is that of advanced beings given as individuals the capability of decoding and synthesizing DNA and nanomachines on an intuitive level. The impact of this is so far-reaching, it is probably impossible to tell what culture and society this would lead to. An idea that warrants a lot of thought and further examination in its own right. Maybe somebody else will pick it up.
Throughout the novel Cramer doesn't skimp with cynicism. Pointed barbs are aimed at writers and publishers, and a major part of the book deals with the disastrous politics surrounding the fall of the SSC project. He is well in line here with Robert L. Forward, depicting politicians as what can only be considered morons. Unfortunately it turns out that much of the politics portrayed in the book aren't fictional at all.
Cramer provides a long afterword (relegated to the publisher's Web site in the paperback edition), explaining which parts of the science and politics are fictional and which are not, and adds a glossary for those not well-versed in the world of particle physics and academia.
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