A college physicist uses computer technology to enter a parallel world in which she has a great family and an improved personal life—but also telekinetic superpowers that put all their lives at risk.
Smith (The Conservation of Luck, 2017, etc.), a physicist, here more or less asks: What is real life anyway? Thus she launches a series starring heroine Chloe Carsen, who is also Chloe Phillipson. Chloe C. is a science researcher/instructor at a university in Missoula, Montana, using virtual-reality technology to spend more and more of her time spectating on the goings-on in an alternative universe. In that cosmos, there exists a Missoula in which—as Chloe Phillipson—she is still a physics teacher, but one with a great “househusband,” Aidan, and two young sons, Trevor and Zach. Chloe C. realizes ruefully that her counterpart is a considerably happier and more fulfilled version of herself. But then odd things happen in the Phillipson household, as the two sons show telekinetic abilities (including levitating themselves), apparently inherited from their mom. It seems that Chloe P. can do “magic” as well, and it may be traceable to a dark-matter experiment gone wrong 15 years earlier and/or the Phillipsons unexpectedly being the next stage in human evolution. They try to keep their “dark energy” superpowers a secret, but ubiquitous cellphone cameras and social media put them in peril. Smith’s narrative voice, dominated by dialogue, is easy and brisk (rather like the one Ira Levin used for his female-paranoia masterworks, Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives), and even the science speculation comes in lightweight packets. Overall, the material reads like the kind of adventure novels that, in earlier eras, inspired Disney properties (especially Escape to Witch Mountain), but with some R-rated language and mistrust of authority. The big question for the reader is whether alt-reality Chloe C.’s eavesdropping on all this via VR is somehow creating the bizarre circumstances for the Phillipsons. The book’s concluding gimmick with parallel worlds feels like a distraction and not really necessary. But some readers may find it sets up the open-ended finale on a properly tantalizing what if? note.
Dark energy disrupts domestic tranquility in a pleasant sci-fi diversion with a family-hour vibe.