What would happen if a compulsive gambler gained the ability to see the future?
Having been touted as demigods on innumerable business magazine covers, executives apparently think it’s time to get into the novel-writing game as well, though one hopes the average product will be better than former About.com CEO Fawer’s first try. A heartless mélange of just about every hack bestseller subgenre you could imagine (Crichton, Cook and Ludlum are purists compared to Fawer’s unabashed copycatism), Improbable is, in theory, about what happens when Manhattan gambling addict David Caine is offered an experimental drug by a too-good-to-be-true doctor in order to help with seizures. He’s also into a Russian mobster for a few thousand, and his twin brother, Jasper, is now out of the asylum but no less insane. Then there’s Nava Vaner, a standard-issue CIA contract killer, who’s also selling secrets to the North Koreans and gets wrapped up in some subterfuge involving the drug that Caine has ingested. What makes the shadowy powers behind the scenes interested in poor Caine—who, before he went in for treatment, was just a gambling junkie uncommonly good at calculations—is that once on this drug, he shows signs of becoming the personification of Laplace’s Demon, a mathematical theorem describing an all-knowing intelligence that can predict the future. Fawer is much too fond of talking math and quantum physics at length, a trait that can make for jarring transitions back into Nava’s Spy vs. Spy–style activities (she eventually hooks up with Caine and together they fight the forces of darkness); but at the very least, no reader will come away from Improbable without knowing a great deal about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. To his credit, Fawer writes pretty well, even if he does put in too much information about statistics.
Cold and mechanical: fiction by computer.