May 2005

Stacy Cowley

fiction

Reflex by Steven Gould

Steven Gould's 1992 debut novel, Jumper, prominently features the Stanville Public Library as one of its touchstone locations, the only place its misfit teenage protagonist feels safe. I came across Jumper in the Howard County Public Library, where I spent large portions of my own misfit adolescence. I suspect many of the book's fans found it in similar ways -- in the years after I read Jumper, I'd occasionally mention it to other science-fiction readers, a surprising number of whom knew of it and adored it. (SF fans are generally people who grew up spending way more time in libraries than anywhere else, except maybe computer labs.). Gould's novel, of a teenager who suddenly finds he can teleport at will, has become a minor classic in the young-adult SF field.

Twelve years after writing Jumper, Gould has returned with a sequel, this time aimed at adults. Gould's first novel about Davy Rice explored the exhilaration and confusion of discovering an ability to instantly "jump" almost anywhere in the world. Reflex picks up a decade later, with Davy married, accustomed to his unique skill, and using it to earn fat paychecks running errands for the NSA. Unsurprisingly, other covert-ops types would also like to take advantage of Davy's talent. Reflex opens with a group of bad guys snatching Davy, hoping to brainwash him and use his teleportation ability for nefarious deeds like political assassinations.

The narrative alternates between Davy's story of captivity and his wife Millie's search to find and save him. The split-narrative structure is an oft-used tactic for telling kidnapping tales, and here it helps Gould keep his story moving smoothly and briskly. Millie and Davy's interior voices aren't all that dissimilar, but Gould gets away with it; it's not entirely implausible for long-married spouses to sound so similar.

Gould earns credibility in his thoughtful handling of teleportation and indoctrination -- then stretches it with some of the book's thriller-like twists and its too-easily wrapped up ending, the same problems that afflicted Jumper. Still, Reflex is a worthy successor, sharing its predecessor's blend of an old-fashioned, action-adventure-style story with a modern crispness to the prose. Teleportation and Evil Villains Imperiling Our Hero are old SF tropes, but Gould demonstrates again even the hoariest plot elements are fun when given a fresh treatment.

One quibble aimed at the publisher Tor, not Gould: Reflex is one of the more poorly copy-edited books I've come across recently. Small typos and punctuation errors pop up frequently, and in one scene, a minor character changes names for several paragraphs. If such things bother you, hold off for a later print run; if not, you can enjoy playing spot-the-oopsie and clucking about publishers' rush jobs.

Reflex by Steven Gould
Tor
ISBN: 0312864213
380 pages