Gillian Bradshaw,
The Wrong Reflection
(Severn House, 2000;
Ace, 2003)

One of the most basic traits of our humanity is our identity -- our history, our memories, our personality and our relationships. But what would happen if you woke up one day and all of that was gone? You look in the mirror and you don't recognize the face that is staring back at you? You're in a hospital but you don't know how you got there?

The Wrong Reflection, by Gillian Bradshaw, is a science-fiction thriller that begins to deal with this issue. Bradshaw, primarily known for writing historical fiction using her classical background, succeeds brilliantly in this new area using the talents that her former genre no doubt taught her. She creates vivid characters and ties them into a tight thriller that keeps you turning pages as you wonder what's happening. Unfortunately, the ending loses steam, and she uses a grammatical conceit that becomes increasingly aggravating.

The first half of The Wrong Reflection is a brilliant mystery, with Paul knowing even less than the reader. This makes the book even more enjoyable as you try to unravel what's going on before Paul can. Paul is hampered by bouts of severe pain and nausea that stop his efforts to remember his past; oddly, he can remember specific elements of science but not how to put on his pants. He wears his logical mind like a badge, but is scared of everything around him.

The tension mounts as Sir Philip tries to get Paul committed while Sandra, an intriguing character who rescues him, senses a kindred spirit and, in many senses, becomes his lifeline. I found myself wanting to read "just one more chapter" when I should have been going to sleep. It was engrossing, and I really felt sorry for Paul and his predicament.

But, as the mystery is revealed, the story becomes a standard "misunderstood alien used and abused by an evil corporation for fun and profit" story with a scientific twist. The villains, particularly Lloyd, are rather stereotypical. Other characters are far more interesting, including Rod, a Michael Moore-like documentary director, and his lover and cameraman, Dave. (Thankfully, nothing is made of the fact that they are gay -- it's just part of their characters, not an agenda.) Malcolm, the black home-nurse who is initially brought in to care for Paul, suffers from a bit of unnecessary racial typing.

Bradshaw's writing overall is excellent, drawing the reader in with her words and making even the slower second half of the book seem much better than it really is. Her prose is well done and she writes with great economy. However, I found the constant movement between Paul's viewpoint and Sandra's very abrupt, distracting and ultimately annoying. It detracted from the book and, considering how great the rest of her writing was, I found it even more disappointing.

I can't say much about the science aspect of the novel, as I don't know a lot about magnetic fields and singularities. It sounded good enough to suspend my disbelief, which is all I ask for in a science fiction novel. It doesn't get very technical, so if hard science turns you off, you don't need to worry about it. Bradshaw explains it well enough so that you can understand it.

The Wrong Reflection will keep you reading, despite the fact that it limps to the finish line after a wonderful start.

- Rambles
written by David Roy
published 1 May 2004

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