Herman Wouk,
A Hole in Texas
(Time Warner, 2004)

Pulitzer Prize-winner Herman Wouk has written such memorable novels as The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War and War & Remembrance. Now, he has released a book whose title should have clued me in that this was fluff compared to the weighty works he has penned in the past. But, being a Dallas resident, I started listening to the audiobook version of A Hole in Texas with, perhaps, larger than normal expectations.

The hole referenced in the title refers to a partially built Superconducting Super Collider -- a project that main character Guy Carpenter worked on for five years before this project to find the Higgs boson was shut down by Congress for budgetary and political reasons. For those of you without a physics background, think smaller than an atom. Think of Einstein and relativity. Think of more potential destructive power than nuclear weapons. In fact, let me give Wouk some credit in that he describes the Higgs boson in such a way that we laymen can understand and follow to some degree. Unfortunately, I've slept since I've heard the book and cannot regurgitate the more important points of Higgs and his boson.

What is important to this story is that while the U.S. had given up the search a decade ago, the Chinese have now claimed to have discovered the boson. My first thought: "So what? Good for them." The book's thought: "Oh my gawd! We're Americans! WE ARE THE WORLD'S PREMIER SCIENTISTS! How dare the Chinese surpass us?!!!? What if they make a boson bomb? A BOMB?!!!? Oh my gawd! Whose fault is this? Why did we kill the Superconducting Super Collider project? Scapegoat! We need a scapegoat!"

And here is where middle-aged Guy Carpenter steps in. He might have only been one of many scientists on the project, but back in his college days, he had a romantic connection with the physicist who went on to lead the Chinese project to its recent success. It is not uncommon for foreign nationals to come to the U.S. for graduate work prior to returning to their mother countries, and that is what Wen Mei Li did. And since these two had a thing for each other so long ago, he is obviously leaking confidential secrets to her, right? So, it must be Guy's fault that the Chinese discovered the boson.

As you can see, besides the scientific/political aspect of this story, there is also a love angle. Even though Guy hasn't seen his old Chinese flame in years, they still hold a special place for each other in their hearts. Probably not a bad thing, except that they are both married to other people. Throw in the beautiful Congresswoman who keeps making advances towards Guy and you end up with everybody's image of your "stereotypical middle-aged scientist" -- a man who has to chose between three wonderful women. Hey! It's a novel. Things like this can happen.

If you have not guessed by now, I was less than impressed by A Hole in Texas. It is true that part of the problem was with my preconceived notions of what a Herman Wouk novel should be. But part of the problem was also with the character dialogue. For example, who still says "egads" and "ye gods"? (Will I still be saying "dude," "cool" and other '80s terms when I'm as old as Wouk?) The worst part of the story for me was the reading of Jonathan Davis, a New York-based actor/writer. While some of his character portrayals had very distinct voices, too many of them sounded too close to Jonathan the narrator. I often lost track of who was saying what.

In short, avoid the 10-hour, unabridged audiobook of A Hole in Texas. If you just have to read everything by Wouk, then get the paperback when it becomes available. Some of his earlier work is worth the full price of a hardback. This one isn't.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 20 November 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.