Like Finity (1999), a tall story that keeps getting taller . . . and taller . . . and taller.
As writer/college professor John Barnes (yes, that John Barnes), of Gunnison, Colorado, downloads an interactive Web cartoon, Gaudeamus (“let us rejoice”), old college pal and private investigator Travis Bismarck shows up. Travis’s current case involves trying to determine how Negon stole top-secret information from rival researchers Xegon—the latter’s studying an exciting quantum effect, called . . . “gaudeamus.” His inquiries lead to grad student/hooker Lena Logan and her lucrative sideline in sex-enhancing “goddies,” a.k.a. “gaudeamus” pills. The pills also confer telepathy. And in Lena’s apartment Travis discovers a weird device, called . . . you guessed it. Later, Travis learns that every intelligent race eventually discovers Gaudeamus technology; it converts energy from one form to any other, without reference to space or time: the possibilities, indeed, are endless. However, the machine also signals the universe at large that Earth is ripe for exploitation. Before Travis learns this, though, he has an encounter with a UFO containing scientists in clown costumes—scientists who are also members of the world’s worst grunge rock band. Then there are Brown Pierre, a genius who’s intent on saving the world; All Thumbs, the galactic marshal; the inexplicable activities of the Hardware Store Killer; and a deadline of February 4, 2011, by which time planet Earth must be fully up to speed on Gaudeamus technology—or else.
Even at this length, a narrative that should be—and often is—pure fun repeatedly gets bogged down in philosophical debates. Not Barnes’s best, though entertaining enough.