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BOOK REVIEW: Singularity by Bill DeSmedt

REVIEW SUMMARY: First-rate science fiction thriller. Highly recommended.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Science fiction thriller centered on the fascinating, real-life Tunguska Event of 1908.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Fascinating premise; fast-paced and multi-faceted story; realistic science; tense, edge-of-your-seat action.
CONS: The inevitable love interest gets in the way at times.
BOTTOM LINE: An engrossing, taut, science fiction thrill ride.


The premise for Bill DeSmedt’s Singularity is based on the fascinating real-life mystery of the Tunguska Event. The facts are these:

  • On June 30 1908 in an unpopulated part of Siberia, something unknown decimated an area of forest equivalent in size to half the state of Rhode Island.
  • The impact was such that the roughly circular pattern of felled trees pointed away from a single impact point.
  • The shock wave of the impact traveled around the globe. Twice.
  • The most advanced scientific instruments at that time detected a magnetic anomaly at the time of impact.
  • For the next month, the nighttime sky of Northern Europe was lit up with the reflection of sunlight off the floating debris.
  • A scientific study was not done until 20 years later since Russia was concerned with other matters (war, revolution, etc.). Today, there are yearly expeditions of the area and several theories as to the cause of the Event.
  • One theory posits that the damage was done by a meteor or asteroid strike, or an explosion of one close to the surface of the Earth. But there were no remnants found in the soil. Even worse, at the epicenter of this massive blast – there was no crater!
  • Another theory supposes that the blast was caused by the explosion of an extraterrestrial spacecraft. Again, there is no proof to be found in the area.
  • A third theory (the Jackson-Ryan Hypothesis) proposes that a microscopic, but incredibly massive, black hole hit the Earth. The extreme mass of the black hole accounts for the damage but, opponents argue, the lack of exit wound on the opposite side of the Earth disproves the theory.

The central premise of Singularity supposes that a black hole did indeed strike the Earth…and it’s still there – circling the Earth’s core in a decaying orbit.

In the book, which takes place present day, the Tunguska Event is being investigated by physicist Dr. Jack Adler, out to prove his theory that the black hole is still there. His hypothesis is met with derision by the members of the annual Tunguska Expedition.

Meanwhile, a government agency (CROM – the Critical Resource Oversight Mandate – charged with tracking the brainpower behind weapons of mass destruction) is closing in on the head of Grishin Enterprises, a conglomerate tied with the disappearance of several Soviet Braniacs. Newbie field agent Marianna Bonaventure enlists the aid of (and by “enlists the aid of” I mean “coerces”) consultant Jonathan Knox. CROM’s path leads to Arkady Grishin’s mega-yacht, Rusalka, the floating home of Grishin Enterprises which remains protected from governmental intrusions by virtue of it residing in various international waters. With a little dangerous undercover work and Jon’s intuitive abilities, a horrifying link is found between Grishin Enterprises and the Tunguska region. Then all hell breaks loose.

That’s the premise in a nutshell. In another nutshell, here is the hodgepodge of themes and ideas that are superbly woven into a thrill ride of a story: secret government agencies, intrigue, adventure, cosmology, Soviet culture, computer gadgetry, cutting edge science, time travel, quantum physics, holograms, assassins, the nature of reality and of course, the culture and lore of the real-life Tunguska Event. All of these items are wisely presented in context of the story and its characters. The author draws on his knowledge and experience as a consultant and Russian culture expert to build a believable and realistic ride.

What first, and immediately, drew me to this story was the Tunguska Event itself. I had never heard of it before but a little Googling goes a long way. The event is nothing short of fascinating for anyone even remotely interested in science. What the heck caused it?

The fictional story is entrancing, too. An opening scene with Marianna, out to recover an abducted foreign scientist, starts the action. Marianna’s backup plan to utilize the talents of wizard consultant Jon Knox was also well done as it was ripe with contention. The pace of the story was nearly perfect (more below) so as to make you want to keep reading. The writing was clear and the arguments logical. Throughout the whole story, in fact, situations and positions are clearly and logically explained so character motivations are believable and well understood. The author, much to my liking, avoids overly wordy descriptions of surroundings and instead concentrates on the story and the characters.

What about the characters? Being a techie myself, I suppose I related most to Knox and his uber-geek friend and resource, Mycroft. While Jon’s intuitive abilities were a bit “lucky” at times, it was really no great intrusion to the action or believability. Mostly his conclusions are sound. Marianna, the newbie field agent, was tough but fallible; in other words – human. Grishin CEO Arkady Grishin was a likable millionaire villain, but his hired hand Yuri was a bit of a letdown since he botched several murder attempts throughout the story. (What does an evil genius have to do catch a break?) Knox’s old acquaintances, Sasha and Galiana, were also likable as smart and devoted scientists who get mixed up with the wrong crowd in the glare of potential scientific notoriety. Some brief flashbacks with them paint in Knox’s background and provide some side drama.

Not that this story needed any side drama because there was plenty to go around. I was reminded of watching the first two seasons of 24 where the edge-of-your-seat suspense kept you coming back for more. And, as long as I’m pigeon-holing, I would say that the first half of the book reads like a taut techno-thriller (plenty of government agents, action, intrigue, etc.) and the second half reads like an excellent hard science fiction novel (a la Greg Bear or John Cramer) complete with time travel paradoxes and quantum physics.

Overall, the pacing was well done. If anything dragged the book down it was the inevitable romance between Marianna and Knox. It was a bit overplayed at times to the point of eye-rolling on the part of this reader. Still, that’s a minor nit that is excusable in the midst of so much other coolness.

Surprising to me is that this is Desmedt’s first book, one I whole-heartedly recommend. To create such a wonderfully enjoyable first novel is a worthy accomplishment. I anxiously wait for the planned sequel, Dualism. In the meantime, there is still so much more to learn about the Tunguska Event itself.

SIDE NOTE: The Vurdalak website is a good place to start. It is the home of the “real” Dr. Jack Adler. Actually, that’s a pseudonym used by a professor whose university wishes to distance itself from his “crazy ideas”. That professor took the pseudonym of Dr. Jack Adler from Singularity – he knows the author.

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

3 Comments on BOOK REVIEW: Singularity by Bill DeSmedt

  1. I’m shocked, shocked!, that you had never heard of Tunguska before. Its not like Spock didn’t devote a whole “In Search of…..” episode to it or it wasn’t mentioned in Ghostbusters. Sheesh.

    And in honor of that professor using a pseudonym, I propose John be called, for all 4-5 star reviews, HK….

  2. In the afterward, the author mentions he got the idea from watching Cosmos. Carl Sagan dismissed the black hole idea and moved on to something else. The author wondered if the black hole could still be in the Earth – the germ of an idea that resulted in this book.

    As for the glowing review ? I call ?em as I see ?em. I enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed any other book with the same rating ? it was just that good. And it?s not like I haven?t slammed books before, something HK is incapable of doing.

  3. Great review! As a very small independent press, we’re super happy that we got the opportunity to publish this book. It slipped past the larger publishers.

    Interested readers can read an excerpt of Singularity at Per Aspera Press.

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