Book Review: “Superposition” by David Walton

I’m a little late to the party with this but I hope one more positive review of David Walton’s science fiction murder mystery won’t be too many coals to Newcastle.  “Superposition” has all the tension and drama you would hope to find in a classic whodunit combined with enough theoretical physics to satisfy the geek in all of us.  And oh yeah; there’s a healthy dose of family reality delivered straight up and without sentimentality.  The things Walton does to physicist Jacob Kelly and his family sure ain’t Disney.

The story opens with a visit.  Physicist Brian Vanderhall drops by unexpectedly one snowy night and baffles his former co-researcher Kelly with bizarre claims about quantum based life forms he discovered while conducting research at the New Jersey Super Collider.  He proceeds to support these claims with demonstrations of apparently impossible actions made possible through methods of quantum manipulation revealed by the mysterious beings.

There is a history between the two scientists and it’s not pretty.   Vanderhall’s fundamental instability is a cause of friction and a serious impediment to Kelly’s acceptance of his claims.  When Vanderhall resorts to the grandstanding ploy of firing a shot at Kelly’s wife and deflecting the bullet in flight Kelly hits him good and hard and throws him out into the cold.

The next day Vanderhall turns up dead.  Jacob Kelly is the only possible culprit.  His only hope is to get to the bottom of Vanderhall’s research and find the real killer.

Relying on the latest developments in the esoteric science of quantum physics is a risky approach to a murder mystery but Walton is no formula-scribbling egghead.  The line stretching from the operation of probability on a sub-atomic scale to courtroom drama is surprisingly straight and clearly illuminated by characters on either side of the scientist/non-scientist divide.  There’s no stopping to wonder, “What did he say?  What does that mean?”  It’s no small feat to drive relentless action, build suspense and deliver scientific knowledge without adding drag but these are among the things “Superposition” does flawlessly.

The premise is a direct descendent of the brand of science fiction popularized by “The Outer Limits.”  If you were fortunate enough to grow up when this unique program was breaking ground in the 1960s you’ll certainly recall the impact of strange and wonderful ideas conveyed through intelligent, sophisticated scripting and innovative production.  There are scenes in “Superposition” which are difficult not to visualize in the beautiful noir tones used to such great effect by the classic series.

Of course, a novel leaves much more room for storytelling than an hour long TV series and Walton leaves no wasted space.  Like all the best science fiction “Superposition” is ultimately a story about character and the glories and dangers of human motivations.  Those motivations pack every dark corner or shine in every beam of light.  There is even a place for mystery; the quantum beings are clearly motivated by something that makes sense to them but their thoughts and reasons are beyond us.

“Superposition” is a fine effort but given David Walton’s track record to date it’s a sure thing that better things are on the way.



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