An incredible, science-defying black sphere found in a California watermelon field sparks official paranoia, bizarre experiments, and an unlikely love match between a linguist-prodigy and an IT researcher.
In an arch tone and rich, dense, Nabokov-ian language, author Lakritz presents a meandering “report” on a mysterious Fortean find in a California watermelon patch in the extrapolated future Earth of 2024 and the absurdist reactions it provokes. “The Watermelon,” aka the Sphere, is soccer ball–sized, perfectly black (except when it isn’t) and nonreflective (except when it isn’t). Unknown in origin and intent, incapable of being precisely measured, analyzed or penetrated, and occasionally self-multiplying, teleporting and changing in appearance, seemingly just to frustrate observers, it quietly defies fundamental tenets of physics and reality. As two similar baffling artifacts—one rod-shaped, the other crystallike—turn up in unlikely environments in France and Russia, the Watermelon is judged to be a possible national security issue and locked in a secret underground complex in Virginia. There, a nervous U.S. government shanghais numerous eccentrics and experts—a chess grandmaster, a legendary physicist, professional magicians—to try and solve the enigma. The nameless narrator is one such misfit maven, a computer scientist who falls in love with a fellow investigator, a celebrated but emotionally fragile linguistic prodigy. The storyline is low on incident but bursting with erudition and commentaries about Alan Turing, artificial intelligence, quantum mechanics, encryption mathematics, relationships, Buddhism, the fine line between genius and madness—and a NOVA season’s worth of other deep-thought topics. It’s all relayed in language that straddles science and poetry: “It’s a really elegant design, a web of intricate feedback, of loops on loops on loops. And the control signals that run the loops are the cytokines—Interleukins, Tumor Necrosis, Bradykinin, etc.—a suite of small molecules.” Lakritz even writes a clever Watermelon-ish justification as to why the memoirist’s capacious mind is suddenly so full of esoterica and wonderment, although readers will judge for themselves how much that mitigates the novel’s ambiguous ending.
Smart and humorous sci-fi about a mysterious sphere—a real ball.