“The term ”fission” describing how a uranium nucleus could split into two had been borrowed from biology, and Oppie had a sudden flash of micrographs he’d seen of a dividing cell: an entity pinched in the middle to form bulbous halves. Grove’s belt was the construction and an ample gut billowed out above and below it.”
I’m going to start with a negative here and its no reflection on Robert J Sawyer’s great writing. No, I struggled to get into this novel a little at first because my imagination about the Manhattan project was coloured so deeply by the tv show of the same name. This was a tad confusing for me and I think possibly impacted my otherwise thorough enjoyment of the novel. Nevertheless, my interest was rekindled and by the end I was a complete convert.
The Robert Oppenheimer of Sawyer’s novel is an enigmatic creature, often caught between two worlds. This is highlighted by the two women in his life. His wife and fellow scientist, Kitty and Jean his troubled, communist lover. Dealing with the destructive outfall of his work and his love life leaves ‘Oppie’ in a tenuous space, until the chance to save the earth with his work transforms his horizons.
The set up in the past is so detailed and appears to be meticulously researched, so when the story branches off from reality into an alternate history, the reader is 100% onboard. I personally adore the way Sawyer puts the ‘science’ into fiction. He makes science a thrilling character of its own in his work. It makes me want to study something in the STEM world.
The political machinations are of course also fascinating and some background from the author’s research explored in the novel unearths some surprising facts. The novel’s publication in parallel with the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb test, the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is particularly meaningful and was fought for by the author.
I digress though. The tale transforms from a historical narrative to a thrilling piece of speculative fiction which was ultimately gripping and made me happy that I’d treated myself to the hard copy version.
5 out of 5, can’t wait for Mr Sawyer’s next work – I’m a big fan.