In Smith’s (A Jack in the Dark, 2018, etc.) latest sci-fi series installment, physics professor Madison Martin’s former student may be using her reality-bending technique for large-scale vandalism.
In the last book in this series, Boulder, Colorado–based college instructor Martin grappled with villains who misused her breakthrough technique, “q-lapsing.” It involves using mind power, adrenaline, and quantum physics to alter reality to a chosen outcome—such as disintegrating the door to a bank vault. Martin’s expertise resulted in her becoming a special consultant to the police and FBI, tentatively training lawmen to use her process for a range of tasks. Now she, as the “Quantum Cop,” must assist them again following another outbreak of mischief—this time involving the eradication of a mining ghost town and the dissolution of a highway. The apparent perpetrator is Luke Bacalli, Martin’s foremost ex-student-gone-bad, whom she thought she’d killed in a quantum duel. Despite the fact that the material universe is at risk, Smith’s tone remains chirpy and playful, and in side plots, Martin’s long-standing love affair with faculty colleague Andro Rivas cools and her attraction to police officer Ben Willis heats up. The motivation for the large-scale destruction isn’t explained, and the behavior of the villains, who alternate between being maniacal and panicked, seems inconsistent, but these questions may be addressed in a future installment. Q-lapsing, in narrative terms, feels very much like spellcasting despite repeated assertions that it’s all based in science (“I concentrated and collapsed the wavefunction, instantiating the reality in which I’d followed this particular improbability to its source”). As is her habit, Smith, a real-life physicist at the University of Colorado at Boulder, concludes this flighty tale with a lucid nonfiction physics essay; this time around, it’s about neutrinos even though they only have a small cameo in the text.
A semiconclusive entry in a lightweight science-minded series.