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robert a.metzger’s ” picoverse ” is advertised as a “mind-boggling hard-science SF novel”.

its starting point is hard science indeed: how a group of scientists stumble across the possibility of creating a new universe by a complex fusion of quantum mechanics and relativity theory. when they access this parallel universe (1000000000000 smaller than ours, hence the title ), the story turns from hard science to classic dystopia – after a short passage through some fairytale scenes not quite unlike st-exupery’s “le petit prince” in negative. we then leave the laboratoty, and go from adventure to adventure meeting heinrich himmler, ernest lawrence, jossip b.stalin, werner heisenberg, the general patton, juan gris or albert einstein, in a US of A devastated by … the soviet menace ( oh, dear !).

the book is a good read, though in a way it is closer to anime such as those by katsuhiro otomo than to hard science sf (say:any greg egan book, for example). and this for some reason: first the action has the same sense of gross exaggeration as manga-style narrations, the heroes always ending up being the center of the universe ( or in this case, whatever universe… ), and battling evil almost bare-handed, producing “massive deflagrations in the fabric of spacetime” in the process.

and then the science featured in the book, although quite convincing and impressive in the beginning, is soon lost to the action and mystery. cyberpunks used science and technology as props, as a setting, taking it then to what was clearly, in some cases, mostly a thriller, or in others political fiction… most sf writers who use science or technology, use it as subject, making their book some kind of literary test or simulation of the technology. they use therefore great caution as to when the story takes place, situating it in the far future, or closer to us, according to the changes, progress or catastrophes, the new technique will bring to us. they situate it in relation to us, the readers and author alike, and give us food for thought along with the entertainment.

in this respect, metzger’s use of a present day setting only gives us only a false sense of familiarity, quickly leaving plenty of room for amazement. we could, science left aside, imagine the book in a swords and sorcerers setting. the book shares indeed some characteristics of fantasy: the evolution of the characters, most of them carrying a mistery hidden deep inside of them, waiting for the just moment to surface. the superpowers and immortality of some of them. the travelling and fighting and destroying and building is also on some cosmic scale, that leaves you dizzy … or will simply leave you behind, if you don’t like your physics mixed in a magical cauldron…

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