John Cramer
Twistor (1989, rev. 1996)
Reviewed: 1998-04-06

There is so little genuine hard SF written that it is a notable event to see physicist and Analog columnist John Cramer take up his pen. Faithful to the prominent preconception that physicists can't write, his first novel, Twistor, starts out painfully slow with overwritten descriptions of the setting and clumsy exposition of the main characters. I wouldn't be surprised if a good many readers gave up at this point. Which would be a mistake, because after a few dozen pages of excruciating boredom, the novel quickly picks up speed when its central physical phenomenon manifests itself.

David Harrison is an experimental physicist at the Univerity of Washington in Seattle. Together with his graduate student Victoria Gordon, who also turns into the target of the inevitable romantic subplot, he accidentally discovers the "twistor" effect, which by way of a weirdly rotating electro-magnetic field opens a gate to parallel "shadow matter" universes predicted by some versions of superstring theory. Alas, Professor Saxon, whom David works for, also runs in private a rather shady business involved with sinister Megalith corporation, and soon professional spies and hitmen are after David, Vickie, and the secret of the twistor effect.

In the accidental company of a dear friend's two small children, David is forced to flee from the thugs to a shadow universe, destroying the twistor machinery in the process. Stuck on a parallel world he must try to survive with the kids and search for a way to return. Meanwhile Vickie tries to save the trio from our universe but runs into the stumbling blocks of an idiot physics department chairman, the unscrupulously selfish Saxon, and homocidal Megalith goons.

Okay, so the crime part of the story isn't so hot, sometimes the author forces his opinions too transparently on the reader, and things click into place a tad too neatly. Especially the villains are flimsy cardbord cutouts. On the other hand Cramer does very well in conveying the fascination and rush of scientific discovery. The twistor effect is well thought-out and in an afterword Cramer draws the line between real science and fictional speculation. In style, the book is reminiscent of early James P. Hogan. If you are a hard SF buff, you definitely want to read this novel.

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