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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Reading List: Anomaly

Cawdron, Peter. Anomaly. Los Gatos, CA: Smashwords, 2011. ISBN 978-1-4657-7394-4.
One otherwise perfectly normal day, a sphere of space 130 metres in diameter outside the headquarters of the United Nations in New York including a slab of pavement and a corner of the General Assembly building becomes detached from Earth's local reference frame and begins to rotate, maintaining a fixed orientation with respect to the distant stars, returning to its original orientation once per sidereal day. Observers watch in awe as the massive slab of pavement, severed corner of the U.N. building, and even flagpoles and flags which happened to fall within the sphere defy gravity and common sense, turning on end, passing overhead, and then coming back to their original orientation every day.

Through a strange set of coincidences, schoolteacher David Teller, who first realised and blurted out on live television that the anomaly wasn't moving as it appeared to Earth dwellers, but rather was stationary with respect to the stars, and third-string TV news reporter Cathy Jones find themselves the public face of the scientific investigation of the anomaly, conducted by NASA under the direction of the imposing James Mason, “Director of National Security”. An off-the-cuff experiment shows that the anomaly has its own local gravitational field pointing in the original direction, down toward the slab, and that no barrier separates the inside and outside of the anomaly. Teller does the acrobatics to climb onto the slab, using a helium balloon to detect the up direction as he enters into the anomaly, and observers outside see him standing, perfectly at ease, at a crazy angle to their own sense of vertical. Sparked by a sudden brainstorm, Teller does a simple experiment to test whether the anomaly might be an alien probe attempting to make contact, and the results set off a sequence of events which, although implausible at times, never cease to be entertaining and raise the question of whether if we encountered technologies millions or billions of years more advanced than our own, we would even distinguish them from natural phenomena (and, conversely, whether some of the conundrums scientists puzzle over today might be evidence of such technologies—“dark energy”, anyone?).

The prospect of first contact sets off a firestorm: bureaucratic turf battles, media struggling for access, religious leaders trying to put their own spin on what it means, nations seeking to avoid being cut out of a potential bounty of knowledge from contact by the U.S., upon whose territory the anomaly happened to appear. These forces converge toward a conclusion which will have you saying every few pages, “I didn't see that coming”, and one of the most unlikely military confrontations in all of the literature of science fiction and thrillers. As explained in the after-word, the author is trying to do something special in this story, which I shall not reveal here to avoid spoiling your figuring it out for yourself and making your own decision as to how well he succeeded.

At just 50,000 words, this is a short novel, but it tells its story well. At this writing, the Kindle edition sells for just US$0.99 (no print edition is available), so it's a bargain notwithstanding its brevity.

Posted at December 24, 2011 16:15