Multi-threaded alternate-worlds tale from Goonan (Light Music, 2002, etc).
In 1941, Sam Dance, an army volunteer with a talent for engineering, sleeps with his physics professor, Eliani Hadntz, a refugee from Eastern Europe. She leaves him a set of advanced scientific papers on esoteric subjects and a set of plans for building a device that Hadntz thinks will end the war—maybe all wars—by adjusting the quantum nature of consciousness. When Sam’s brother Keenan dies in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sam determines to build the device. Sam, just like his army buddy and fellow jazz devotee Al “Wink” Winklemeyer, worships the jazz greats of the era, and he finds that somehow the music lifts him to new ways of perceiving time. Sam and Wink secretly build a device: After an explosion, the device itself changes physically and does something—but what? In England, OSS security operative Major Bette Elegante grills Sam: It’s clear that the British also know about the device, not to mention the Germans and Russians. Later, Sam’s engineering know-how is required on the mission to drop the atomic bomb over Japan; he takes along another device, which absorbs radiation from the bomb blast and physically alters once more. After several mysterious encounters with Hadntz and Elegante, Sam and Wink return to the US. Later, Wink fails to show up for a scheduled reunion, and Sam learns that—in this world, at any rate—Wink was killed in Berlin. Reality for Sam is about to get even more convoluted, and a whole lot stranger still.
A complex, low-key, thoughtful and often dazzling journey through worlds that might, and perhaps should, have been.