Interference: no, it's not science fiction

You’d think that a novel centered on cutting-edge research on the frontiers of particle physics would fit easily into the genre of science fiction, and hard science fiction at that. After all, it’s about the work in a lab at Dartmouth College by a man who appears to be on the path to a Nobel Prize. Well, it’s not science fiction. Interference by the bestselling thriller writer Brad Parks is, instead, a thriller, pure and simple. And if you enjoy the roller-coaster thrills of a tale that abounds with twists and turns, you may love the book. It will disappoint you only if you’re a died-in-the-wool sci-fi fan.

No, it’s not science fiction

About that research. Albert Einstein called it “spooky action at a distance.” It’s called quantum entanglement—a mysterious phenomenon physicists observed a century ago in which some subatomic particles pair with identical particles located at a distance that may be a millimeter, a mile, or a light-year away. When you nudge one of those particles—with a laser, say—both move exactly the same distance and direction. Spooky, right? And a novel premised on the (admittedly absurd) claim that two people could be similarly paired through quantum entanglement might be, at least, interesting. Interference looks at first as though it’s that novel. But it’s not.

Interference by Brad Parks (2020) 397 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)

A brilliant physics professor, weird research, and a bored billionaire

Professor Matt Bronik is on the verge of a breakthrough in his research when he suddenly collapses in his lab and is rushed to the hospital. Although he recovers at length, the problem recurs . . . but this time an ambulance nobody ordered shows up, and he is rushed off to an unknown location. Matt has been kidnapped. Suspicion falls on a bored billionaire Wall Street investor named Plottner who is looking to inject excitement back into his life. He had offered Matt a million-dollar salary to leave Dartmouth and work for him. Uh-oh! We know that Plottner vowed not to take no for an answer. At this point, the action so far looks like the set-up for a tale about weird science—and what nefarious world-bending scheme Plottner might have concocted. But it’s not science fiction.

Something akin to a whodunit

In the fraught days that follow the kidnapping, Matt’s wife and a veteran detective with the New Hampshire State Police follow every lead with dogged determination. Soon, it becomes clear that Plottner is not the only suspect. Matt’s lab assistant, the chair of the department, and a friend on the physics faculty all seem to have reasons. The story devolves into something akin to a whodunit, in which a long list of characters is each suspected in turn of engineering Matt Bronik’s kidnapping. And, yes, there are murders, too. In the end, of course, it’s all resolved. But it’s unlikely you’ll figure out in advance what’s really happened. Brad Parks knows his stuff. Interference works well as a thriller. It’s just not science fiction.

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