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Eric Argus is a maudlin and washed up once brilliant quantum physicist. However, his previous renown gets him one last chance via an old friend. Eric, unfortunately, can think of nothing new, by the way of research, so decides to spend his time, before being fired, re running an old experiment about how photons act as both waves and a particle series, the second changed determinant on the experiment being observed. Eric discovers that the ability to collapse the wave is uniquely human and some take that as the proof of the soul, but when the experiment is tried on a large population something strange happens and this anomaly leads to Eric’s life being threatened...
The Flicker Men (2016. 403 pages) is a science fiction novel by American author Ted Kosmatka, who has been nominated for both the Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. He has previously released two novels, The Games (2012) and Prophet of Bones (2013).
Let start by saying the synopsis was not easy to write. This is a story which is based on some real but complicated maths and physics. If you don’t understand the basic premise then the rest of the logical arguments are not going to make much sense. Kosmatka goes some way to try and make this accessible, understandably so as the success of the story relies on your understanding and so the book contains both illustrations as well as formulas and a bit of Calculus. I have a degree in Mathematics and even I’m thinking the Calculus was probably one thing too many. It may be worth a trip to Wikipedia to look up double slit wave-particle experiment before you venture into the book.
Get past that and we have a very well thought out science fiction novel which also challenges our underlying understanding of the nature of our reality. If there was some part of the book which grated it was Eric’s personality. Now I’m not expecting James Bond, but a character that spends the majority of his time contemplating killing himself because of some previous breakdown, starts to get on your nerves after a while. I may have missed it but I don’t recall the author making it plain just what had caused his breakdown. It is alluded that it was connected to previous work and if we had some understanding of what that was it may have been easier to be empathetic to Eric as a character.
It’s difficult to explain the importance of what Eric discovers without spoiling the whole plot, but significant it is, so much so that there are forces which will kill him to keep him quiet. The second half of the book is taken up with Eric looking for his missing friends whilst at the same time being hunted. Kosmatka is careful to show things through Eric’s experience and the book is written from his POV. This means that we know as little or as much as Eric as to why things have turned from a simple experiment to a personal shit storm.
The premise is a little obscure but past that this is both thought provoking and entertaining.