The universe, which may have been programmed like a computer, heads toward a big crash and a reboot in this thriller.
Alpert (Final Theory, 2008) builds his second thriller on the premise that the universe may be running on an operating system like those that power computers, and that with some manipulation the system may crash and be reprogrammed. The idea is not one that belongs in the realm of science fiction: The endnotes make clear that the theory is one esteemed physicists consider plausible. Alpert’s storytelling, alas, is not quite up to his arresting theme. In what amounts to another tale of an approaching Armageddon, many plot elements are shopworn, starting with the kidnapping of a vulnerable child, 19-year-old Michael Gupta, the autistic great-great grandson of Albert Einstein. A group of religious fanatics, the True Believers, are after Gupta because he knows the code that will allow them to reprogram the universe. As the Believers whisk Michael to Turkmenistan, his adoptive father, David Swift, speaks at a Physicists for Peace conference, where, in short order, Jacob Steele, once a colleague of Swift’s, is assassinated. The Iranians, meanwhile, set off a nuclear blast using methods that indicate they may have been “deliberately tampering with spacetime.” Swift, his wife and the FBI track one of Steele’s contacts in Israel, hoping he’ll provide clues to the whereabouts of the kidnappers. The U.S. president, who has two daughters and is often desperate for a cigarette, launches Operation Cobra to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. The action set pieces that follow have a been-there-read-that quality. A scene in which Michael is nearly thrown into the Burning Gas Crater of Darvaza could have come from a 1950s swords-and-sandals potboiler. Alpert also shoehorns chunks of scientific textbook exposition into dialogue scenes, slowing momentum.
Students of quantum physics may be diverted; others will find it slow going.