“Alice’s Universe: the Discovery of a New Cosmos – Twice” by Terry Montlick

I enjoyed this story for many reasons. Unfortunately, it’s a book that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; it hovers between two different genres little interconnection between the two associated readerships. The author hasn’t made up his mind whether he’s writing super-hard-science Sci-Fi or near-future Fantasy Action-Adventure. So, the beginning of the book is filled with enough cosmological philosophy and quantum mechanics to boggle Stephen Hawkings, with an unsophisticated plotline with good action and great characters.

The main character, Alice, is a super-genius omni-scientist at MIT. The narrator is a grad student who doesn’t seem to know much about anything, but for some never-to-be-revealed reason she asks him to become part of her elite team. She is working on a super-secret project that will eventually have all sorts of spies, free-lancers, business magnates, and the whole kitchen sink of action-adventure novel secondary characters involved. Oh, yes and her mumbo-jumbo-woman mother, who brings an Ozark magic spin to the micro- and macro-physical elements of the plot.

The author actually pulls that connection off cleanly; as far as most of us are concerned, the world of the muon and particle physics might as well be swamp magic.

But in order to get to the real story, we must wade through a morass of all the decaying theories that have been posited about the beginning of the universe. Also, those that may have been proposed and tossed out, and I’m sure many that will be suggested, but only come into being when the author crosses the line between science and fantasy.

The reader starts out trying to follow the scientific arguments. This is entertaining to those of us who have actually read Hawking’s work, but it soon palls when we become avalanched with Einstein’s cosmological constant, four-dimensional surface integrals, the Big Bang, the Big Crunch, and the Big Bounce (at which point I believe we have crossed the line mentioned in the last paragraph).

But the characters keep us going. There are enough kooks, weirdos, and genuinely different people to populate a tent camp for the homeless and the Philosophy department of an elite university. The main character, Alice — part super-scientist, part juju woman — is fascinating. She is only eclipsed by the narrator’s handicapped sister, for whom “autism” is a far too simplistic diagnosis. These and other characters are jumbled together in a light-hearted, off-beat, and endearing mélange that actually fits together in their search for, among other things, a truly random number.

Reading this book is like attending a physics lecture taught by a standup comic. If you can follow it, it’s a whole lot of fun.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This review was originally published at Reedsy Discovery. 

About the Author: Gordon Long

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