Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: The Coming of the Quantum Cats

Last night I finished reading "The Coming of the Quantum Cats" by Frederick Pohl. Before I get into the book I want you to look at the cover. What do you see? Really, just take a moment. What's going on in that picture?

I ask because Yummy saw the cover and immediately knew what kind of weirdness was going on. Those four people climbing the stairs are all the same guy, but from alternate timelines. One of the more revealing book covers that I've seen.

Some books require a certain level of commitment to read. It doesn't get interesting for a couple of chapters, but until that point you have to make yourself read. This book doesn't do that. This book had my attention two sentences in when a guy driving a car in 1986 almost got into an accident while talking on his mobile phone.

The rest of the chapter sets up a world that you think you understand and then gives the world little kicks to make the reader sit up and pay attention.

Like I said, the book starts with someone's phone ringing, him almost getting in a car wreck, and getting a ticket. The guy is sort of a life insurance salesman. He talks about his job, his wife, his life, how he wants to go to the pool with his wife that night because after a certain time the lifeguard stops paying attention and lets people go topless. Really, he sets up a pretty normal world. Normal except for the unusually high influence that wealthy arabs have on society and it's laws. You get your first jolt that night at the pool when they decide it's safe and HE starts to unzip his top. The fact that the pool is almost immediately stormed by the FBI and our main character is arrested is a bit anti-climactic compared to the swimsuit revelation.

The FBI, led by a woman whose thumbs were cut off years ago for shoplifting, beats our central character for awhile trying to make him admit that it was him seen at a research lab recently. His face, his fingerprints, but not his suit. In fact, a bunch of witnesses place him in New York with his wife at the time he was seen at the lab in Chicago.

After a couple of chapters we leave that guy alone until half way through the book. Instead we pay attention the that same guy as a Senator in a much less Muslim America. He's having an affair with a famous classical violin player who bears a remarkable resemblance to the woman beating him in another time line. He's called to New Mexico where they've arrested someone who appears to be the Senator. The New Mexico facility is where they've been doing research into peeking into alternate realities. But few think it'll go anywhere.

After proving that the Senator is really the Senator they talk to the stranger. He says some cryptic things and then vanishes. Soon some alarms sound and everyone rushes out to see what's going on. That's when a version of the Senator dressed in fatigues arrests the Senator.

Remember "Back to the Future" when they were explaining alternate timelines? If you go back and change something then the timeline splits. In the case of this book they're operating under the theory that any time any event could go two ways both things actually happened, but in different timelines. Someone decides to wear a red shirt instead of a blue shirt? Two time lines. Anytime a uranium isotope splits there's a timeline where it happened seconds later instead.

The version of the guy who was arrested but vanished is from a timeline where they got the technology to move between timelines to work. He was forced by the people in another timeline to give them the technology. They're invading the Senator's timeline so they can go to Moscow with a nuke and shove it back through to their own timeline to eliminate their greatest threat.

In one world Kennedy is still alive, but was never president. In one world Reagan is president, but it's Nancy instead of Ronald.

Each chapter is separated by a couple of paragraphs about random strangeness happening as the barriers between timelines breaks down. Eventually all four worlds, and many other neighboring worlds, have to deal with things passing back and forth between worlds on their own just to equalize the mass that they've been moving between worlds.

The book is ripe for a sequel, but none was ever published. Too bad, too. I'd read it.

I liked the book. It was an interesting and engaging read. See if you can find yourself a copy.

1 comment:

GreenCanary said...

I knew what was happening from the cover because I am BRILLIANT!