At 88, Wouk (The Will to Live On, 2000) writes with the brightness of a 45-year-old kid hell-bent on fun about subatomic physics.
The hole in Texas is the underground 50-mile Superconducting Super Collider built at Waxahachie but closed down when Bill Clinton cut the budget. Astrophysicist Guy Carpenter spent five years preparing 10,000 superconducting magnets for the project, then suddenly found himself out of work, as did a whole raft of fellow physicists. Since then he’s worked on the forthcoming, vastly advanced space-telescopes project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (four scopes floating a million miles out) and has had many second thoughts about what the collider was supposed to search for: the Higgs Boson, an elementary particle or force field that allows atoms to attain mass and thus produce the substance of the material universe. Or something like that. Guy wonders: Was the Boson just moonshine? Then, shaking up the whole field, Chinese physicists announce that they’ve found the Boson. The American military gets nervous indeed: a Boson Bomb would be to the hydrogen bomb as the hydrogen bomb is to gunpowder. Widowed but wealthy Congresswoman Myra Kadane, who is on the science appropriations committee that will keep the wavering space telescopes project funded, pastes herself to Guy to learn more about the Boson. Guy’s wife Penny, a microbiologist, isn’t jealous of Myra but rather of Guy’s old girlfriend Wen Mei Li (now 63), who once worked with Guy. She has led the Chinese to the Boson, and now comes back to the States for a conference. Guy, meanwhile, has been hired as a consultant for an idiotic disaster movie about the Boson Bomb. Worse, when he’s fired as well, the movie company wants back its $25,000 advance (Penny’s already spent it) because a Washington Post reporter has dubbed him the “Deep Throat Physicist” who passed secrets to the Chinese. Then the House subpoenas the Deep Throat Physicist to appear with the Mother of the Bomb, Wen Mei Li.
Ingenious. Absolutely ingenious: Wouk’s first fiction in ten years.