Chris Dolley,
(Baen, 2005)

Graham Smith keeps the world from unraveling. He learned early not to talk about it, not to talk about people dying and then coming back -- not only alive, but never having died. In fact, he doesn't talk to anyone about anything any more. He writes himself notes. They are his memory: where he lives, where he works, the day of the week, any other bit of information that might serve to keep the world in its place. The notes are better than his memory -- they fit the world he's in.

Then very strange things start to happen: a young woman gives him a warning. ("They're watching. They want you dead.") Someone breaks into his house and then chases him in a car when he flees. The young woman hides him. Then it gets really complicated.

The young woman is Annelise Mercado, one of 200 Annelise Mercados. "They" is ParaDim, a rapidly growing corporation in control of some amazing technology, headed by Adam Sylvestrus, the one who wants Graham out of commission. Not dead, necessarily -- a coma will do. Graham is the only stable point in billions of parallel universes.

Author Chris Dolley has provided an interesting variation on the parallel universes story: Graham actually is a nexus. He's the only person discovered in any of the universes studied whose heritage is the same from one to another. And the stability of the universes depends on the choices Graham makes.

Adam Sylvestrus makes choices that serve ParaDim's bottom line and lead inevitably to widespread riots and the dissolution of civilization, the result of "New Tech" weapons made freely available. ParaDim has governments bidding against each other for the next wave of technology, and the waves are only coming faster, as ParaDim lifts developments from more "advanced" universes and markets them at home. Graham is in a unique position: he can stop the whole spiral.

Resonance has already gained a bit of notoriety. It is the first book published from Baen Books' electronic slush pile, and has received high praise. It is, after all is said, an exceptional first novel, although I don't know that I'm unreservedly enthusiastic. It's not a page-turner from the beginning, as some have claimed. In fact, the first third is rather slow. Once the story picks up, however, Dolley proves himself adept at blending the action and the structure: Graham "flips" between universes, and the reader flips with him, giving a strong sense of Graham's disorientation. The narrative, which could have become incoherent, becomes kaleidoscopic and the pace, in the final pages at least, breathless.

Annelise is the most engaging character, and in spite of Graham's central role, she really carries the story. Perhaps the biggest flaw is that Graham himself is not very interesting, and it may be that the character's necessary distance from the world and those around him works against his appeal as a person.

by Robert M. Tilendis
27 May 2006

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