The Nine Circles by Howard Shuford

The Nine Circles

Adventures Across Conflicting Realities
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In Shuford’s sci-fi novel, a brilliant physics major’s breakthrough may explain the fracturing reality of a housewife on the run from her former life.

No matter what her doctor husband says, Katherine Jameson feels an inexplicable sense of wrongness. It may have started small—losing track of time—but it quickly escalates to major rifts in her world, as when a meteorite crater on the beach suddenly disappears. Due to her husband’s increasingly hostile, controlling nature, Katherine is compelled to run for her life, only to slip out of control. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Billy Reltin has just started college, where he’s bombarded with new experiences that he’s unprepared for, despite his scientific brilliance. The previous star physics student is hostile, Billy’s attractive friend has an interest in mind-expanding substances, and Billy has the feeling that he’s very close to some conceptual breakthrough—a “quantum loophole” that might just explain Katherine’s fractured reality. Shuford’s novel sits firmly within the lineage of metaphysical, reality-questioning sci-fi, from Philip K. Dick to The Matrix. However, while the premise is intriguing, this adventure doesn’t quite engage readers since its metaphysical bent often takes attention away from character development. When Katherine has mixed thoughts about her mother (aka the “Thought Police”) or when Billy faces the problem of choosing a seat in class, Shuford’s characters are identifiable and sympathetic; but when characters occasionally turn out to be manifestations of the subconscious or derived from another layer of reality, readers might yearn for more attention paid to the real characters’ dilemmas and choices. Instead, Shuford explains the nine circles of reality via his characters’ lecturing one another and through fictional encyclopedia entries. Similarly, a novel with the subtitle “Adventures Across Conflicting Realities” may have a thematic reason for reminding readers that they’re reading a book—i.e., “that is a story not contained in the current scenario”—but such comments interrupt the reading process. Torn between Katherine’s adventure and Billy’s metaphysical discovery, the novel doesn’t excel at either.

A wild metaphysical adventure that may leave readers scratching their heads.

Pub Date: May 26th, 2013
Page count: 269pp
Publisher: Amazon Digital Services
Program: Kirkus Indie
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