Steven Gould
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Tor, PB, © 1992, 344 pp, ISBN #0-812-52237-0
Reviewed November 1997

Steven Gould doesn't quite write hard science fiction - not in his first two novels, anyway - but he does take a very logical, methodical approach to his SF. Jumper is about David Rice, an 18-year-old man who grew up with an abusive father. Shortly before his 18th birthday, David learns that he can teleport, moving instantly to any place that he can clearly remember having been to or seen in person. The entire book explores what David can do - and does - with this ability over the course of a year and a half.

Davy first uses this ability to escape from his father, moving from Ohio to New York City. Gould does a good job of portraying a young and relatively naive person in such a situation, ad Davy doesn't have a license or birth certificate, or any means of getting money. So what does he do to fix this? He robs a bank and gets a fake driver's license. He quickly learns that he can teleport to places he can see clearly, which allows him to jump through windows, and move quickly across stretches of land. Binoculars come in handy. He also learns that having been somewhere, distance means little to him, and he maintains residences in three different states, moving seamlessly among them.

As befits the age of its protagonist, Jumper is also a coming-of-age story. Davy meets a young woman named Millie, and they start a relationship. Although Davy is careful not to explicitly lie to her, he lies by omission as he is for a long time afraid of what she'd think if she learned of his ability. How much trust can he put in her - or in anyone - given the secret he's carrying?

Jumper is episodic in nature, moving from Davy adjusting to New York and his new ability, to his relationship with Millie, to being chased by the police because he intervened when a man (who turned out to be a police officer) was beating his wife in the apartment below Davy's, to Davy chasing terrorists in the Middle East and being himself chased by the National Security Agency. Each phase of the book raises the stakes a little more, and Gould maintains a high level of suspense for hundreds of pages. Sometimes I rather wished it would settle down for a little while.

The real delight of a book like Jumper is the author's attention to detail: Davy doesn't use the door to his New York apartment; he builds himself a home in a cave in the side of a mountain; he can go to DisneyWorld whenever he wants to. Davy is clearly no saint - he remains unrepentant about his bank heist - but he's not a bad person, and doesn't use his power to do serious harm, except when provoked. In this sense, he's a counterpart of Gully Foyle in Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination. The book never devolves into a morality play over his actions, although this may be disappointing to someone who feels the book should make strong moral judgments about people with such an ability. It raises many interesting issues, but doesn't explicitly cover everything; some things should be left to the reader, after all.

Wild Side

Tor, PB, © 1996, 316 pp, ISBN #0-812-52398-9
Reviewed November 1997

Wild Side, like Gould's previous novel Jumper, features an 18-year-old protagonist. Charlie Newell graduates from high school and inherits a farm near his Texas home from his uncle, who disappeared several years earlier. Behind stacks of hay in the barn, Charlie discovers a tunnel into the hill behind the barn, but the hill doesn't come out the other side; instead, it opens into a parallel Earth, one in which humans never evolved, and where mammoths and sabertooth tigers still roam.

After high school graduation, Charlie persuades four of his friends - Joey, Marie, Clara and Rick - to join him in exploring this other world. Charlie raises funds by selling captured passenger pigeons - an extinct species - to zoos around the country, and then they start setting up a base on the wild side from which to conduct airplane expeditions. Their ultimate goal is to reach the Rocky Mountains and mine gold from the unexploited world.

As in Jumper, Wild Side starts from this simple premise and then considers in great detail how the characters would handle this phenomenon. They need to be armed so they can handle the wild animals on the wild side, and any equipment they buy needs to fit through the truck-sized tunnel on the farm. They need to scout out way stations for refueling, as the Rockies are a long distance away, and they need to learn how to use their equipment.

All the while, they try to keep the tunnel a secret, and Charlie's nerves are worn thin as Joey and Marie's relationship becomes rocky, Joey nearly kills himself driving drunk, and Rick determines that he is gay, which destroys his relationship with Clara. Wild Side is less of a coming-of-age story than Jumper, although Charlie eventually finds that he cannot remain the aloof leader he has tried to be; the pressures are simply too great.

Ultimately, the matter of the passenger pigeons comes back to haunt them, leading to an encounter with government forces which occupies the final third of the book. Our heroes have some tricks up their sleeve which they employ, but the odds they're facing are tremendous. Gould maintains a high level of tension throughout the book, between the characters' problems and relationships, trying to reach their goal in the Rocky Mountains, and fighting off the army.

It's a satisfying book, although Gould raises the stakes so high towards the end that it's hard to believe our heroes get away with as much as they do; the resolution seems a bit implausible. Also, Gould's characters are still a bit generic; in particular, Charlie too closely resembles Jumper's Davy Rice. On the other hand, Gould's self-reliant characters certainly have ample precedent in SF history.

Again, fans of really hard science fiction may be disappointed, but people who enjoy a book which plays extensively with a rich "what if?" idea should enjoy it.

Blind Waves

Tor, HC, © 2000, 352 pp, ISBN #0-312-86445-0
Reviewed March 2000

Blind Waves is Gould's fourth novel, and each one has been a little less rewarding than the one before it. Unfortunately, this trend has gotten to the point where this may be the last Gould novel I read.

It's the early 21st century, and the polar ice caps have melted, submerging many miles of coastline all around the world. As a result, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) in the US has been granted extraordinary powers to prevent waves of immigrants from sneaking into the US. Many millions of these would-be immigrants end up on New Galveston, a floating island in Texas waters.

Patricia Beenan is an alternate assemblywoman on New Galveston, owns a unit of the island, and makes a living with her submersible checking out the underside of the island and doing contract scouting missions around the former coastline. We meet her at the beginning trying to locate a leaking oil source so it can be closed off. However, while searching the former streets of Houston, she comes across the Open Lotus, a recently-sunk ship whose hold contains fifty dead bodies, apparently smuggled immigrants. And evidence that the ship was fired upon to sink it.

After a lengthy chase in which an INS boat tries to capture her, Patricia broadcasts a tape of her exploration of the Open Lotus to government and new sources and manages to return to New Galveston, where she soon meets Thomas Beckett, the INS Criminal Investigation Division officer assigned to investigate the sunken ship. The two of them fall in love, even as they learn that a conspiracy within the INS has targeted them both to be killed.

As you can see, the book has a fairly simple premise and doesn't really have much science fictional content beyond the premise, which is disappointing in itself. Instead, the book provides a lot of information about underwater nautical maneuvering and the society of New Galveston, the politics of the immigrant situation, and the adventure and love story. I didn't find any of these elements particularly engaging; it's pretty routine stuff. The romance, in particular, I found downright annoying, since it seemed mainly intended to provide titillation, and the whirlwind nature of the romance (the whole thing lasts about a week, and gets very serious very quickly) seemed implausible to me.

The book also sports extensive quotations from Shakespeare, which I felt were both overused and didn't really illuminate the book's themes any more than the regular prose.

Gould's books have followed a pattern of apparently focusing on a hobby or interest he's recently acquired (so it seems, at any rate); consider the extensive aikido sequences in Helm, for instance. While this can be useful if properly integrated into a larger story, they seem to end up dominating the story. Blind Waves basically has several of Gould's apparent interests hung on a very standard adventure yarn. It just didn't work for me.

hits since 13 August 2000.

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