Howard V. Hendrix,
Standing Wave
(Ace Books, 1998)

Have you ever pondered the stars in the night sky, imagining the vast cold interstellar spaces, the smallness of earth, and your likely insignificance in the grand scheme of things? Howard V. Hendrix?s novel Standing Wave is an assured antidote to such depressive introspective stargazing. The story describes a critical, pivotal time not just in the lives of certain individuals, but also in the Earth's existence and that of the whole universe. Its potency as an antidote comes from the ideas expounded in the story, all of which have in common, support for the proposition that individuals, and their actions, can and do effect how the universe (and indeed universes!) unfolds.

The story begins in the aftermath of the Light, a momentary unexplained burst of high psychic energy which leaves a legacy of increased awareness/intelligence among all sentient (including machine) things on Earth. The event is generally considered to have been benign until a serial killer starts choosing as victims those interfacing with the Infosphere (the www of the not-so-distant future). The nature of their deaths (involving dimensional distortion) suggests something big is afoot.

And so it proves. There is a female detective on the trail of the killer, with the trail leading into cyberspace, and orbital space communes. There is the involvement of trans-national corporations in the quest for the perfect brain-machine interface and the current poor compromise of brain-damaged humans floating, wired, in tanks. This is all feet-on-ground stuff. But it soon gets wild. The top of a mountain which disappeared with its local tribe from South America many years previously, returns, floating in from space to land again with its same cargo of people.

These events require explanation, and explanation there is in plenty by way of quantum physics, Jungian psychology, consciousness and its various theories, and religion in general and Christianity in particular. These ideas are unceremoniously dumped without apology into the narrative and consequently at many places it creaks beneath the strain. But then perhaps the author had no choice in this because what he attempts to convey is nothing short of an explanation for everything, literally everything.

As I said at the beginning, the "theory of everything" put forward is attractive, even seductive, because it manages to suggests that the universe is governed by something other than blind Darwinian-like forces, and does so without the weak recourse to the simple religious faith that often accompany such attempts. However, it must be said that the author certainly does not manage to avoid the obscurantism so often associated with the latter path.

If you like your science fiction strong and rich with philosophical and scientific concepts then Standing Wave is certainly to be recommended as a heady cocktail.

[ by Conor O'Connor ]

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