Steven Gould,
(Tor, 2004)

Reflex returns readers to the imagined world of Steven Gould's debut novel Jumper (1992). Davy Rice and his unique ability to teleport, or "jump," are once again the focus of this book, Gould's fifth novel. But whereas Jumper was Davy's story alone, taking him from the discovery of his power to "jump," to his recruitment by and work for the NSA, to his confrontation with his alcoholic father, this time around Gould has written an episodic novel. Reflex alternates the point of view between Davy and his wife, Millie Harrison-Rice, a family therapist.

Once again Davy is dealing with conflict on the home front. But his arguments with Millie over her desire to start a family pale by comparison to the abusive father-son relationship that anchored Jumper.

Reflex is a simpler book than Jumper, one that sets aside the breadth of character development Gould provided last time out in favor of a kidnap and rescue plot. The bad guys capture Davy, after devising a way to control him. The plan is to use Davy's teleportation skills to forward their evil schemes. Millie is thrust into the role of undercover agent, tracking down the villainous Lawrence Simons and his minions and delivering them to justice. If it sounds to you a little like a comic book adventure, you're right. Reflex isn't nearly the book its predecessor was. It's a briskly paced science fiction romp, but no more.

One of the places where Reflex falls short is in Gould's failure to craft different textures for the sequences told from each character's viewpoint. The Millie chapters read exactly like Davy chapters. This, despite the extensive use of italicized asides that allow Gould to take the reader beyond the dialogue and into the thought processes of his lead characters. The tones of these sequences are undifferentiated. Both Millie and Davy have been given the same snide internal voices. The result is that the technique becomes tedious rather than revelatory.

As well, the villains have been given few, if any, redeeming qualities. Hyacinth Pope, the woman who manages to capture Davy, is a killer because she wants to be. She doesn't feel the need to justify her actions to anyone, herself included. So when she attempts to exchange her role as Davy's tormenter and become his seducer, the only thing she has going for her is her shapely body. Yet Davy is tempted. I for one didn't buy into the attempted plot twist. A more complex, conflicted version of Hyacinth could have made the dilemma facing Davy more plausible, and much more interesting.

Gould does give readers one intriguing new character in Sojee Johnson, a homeless woman who helps Millie begin her search for clues in the wake of Davy's disappearance. But Sojee's potential to function as a lens into the souls of Millie, and Davy, is never fully realized. She instead becomes a simple pawn of the plot, elevating the tension when she too disappears, without illuminating the characters.

In the end, Reflex strikes me as a half-hearted effort. Gould has revived his most successful character, likely at the prompting of his publisher, but hasn't really convinced himself that there's anything new to say. The "jumping" gimmick still works as a plot springboard, but what Reflex really needed, if it was going to live up to its potential, was greater depth.

Hopefully, before Davy Rice puts in an appearance in another book Steven Gould will take a serious interest in exploring the growth of his character. As Rice moves into the realm of parenthood there'll be plenty of reason to write a third novel. Gould has demonstrated he has the skills to deliver top-quality science fiction, let's see if he "jumps" at the opportunity.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 5 March 2005

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