In this sci-fi novel, a revolutionary new technology has unforeseen consequences as a young scientist creates a “quantum” computer that endows her with unusually good luck.
To earn her master’s degree, youthful Ella Hote, a researcher in the U.S. heartland, has built a suitcase-sized quantum computer. This heavy-duty calculating machine features microchips that, at the subatomic level, can occupy exponential states of being, not just the usual ones or zeroes. But there seems to be a macrocosmic side effect to the quantum components of the computer. When it is switched on and made to calculate, incidents befall Ella that seem especially well-timed and fortuitous—fluky hookups with handsome guys, a job offer, a casino jackpot, and a rainstorm ending a drought. But Ella notices that with each windfall for her comes bad fortune for somebody else—even injury and death at the casino (At one point, she reflects: “I might have been sort of lucky. It seems like people near me might be sort of unlucky”). Ella eventually theorizes that “luck” in the universe must be balanced out like any other force and that a q-computer in the wrong hands could spell disaster. And straightaway, hers gets stolen. If you use Carl Sagan as the benchmark of a scientist-turned–sci-fi author, then real-life physicist Smith (Reality Alternatives, 2016, etc.) might rate somewhat at the light-element end of the periodic table. Still, her novels and series that riff on quantum mechanics and Erwin Schrödinger strangeness are fun little mind tricks and thought experiments, part George Gamow at his more fanciful crossed with chick lit. Smith’s latest offering might be compared to a Rod Serling teleplay except it isn’t even that edgy. A good chunk of the seriocomic narrative takes place in gambling and card-playing milieus (there is only one passage of scientific jargon, plus a short nonfiction essay on principles of quantum computing at the end). But the material is more on the easygoing side of the spectrum rather than a thriller. The wrap-up suggests a variation on It’s a Wonderful Life with quantum mechanics replacing Clarence the angel.
Entertaining, femalecentric, escapist reading for poolside.