Shift is Chris Dolley’s second published novel, but his first written story. After publishing his first book, Resonance, Baen also asked if Dolley had any more SF stories. After considerable re-work, Shift is the result. While it still has some of that first novel feel, Shift is still a fine science fiction novel, with a lot of interesting scientific ideas surrounding the human brain and higher dimensions.
Shift is, at heart, a murder mystery. Astronaut John Bruce is the first man to pilot a spaceship through higher dimensional space, called Shifting. Currently, Bruce is running for President of the United States, but something seems amiss to his old girlfriend, Louise Callander. Convicted serial killer, and multiple personality disorder sufferer, Peter Pendennis suddenly manifests a new personality by the name of John Bruce. This new personality seems to know things only the real Bruce would know. Nick Stubbs is called in to investigate the Pendennis case and wonders whether Bruce’s Shift travel might have sliced off a piece of his personality and lodged it in Pendennis. Suddenly, dead bodies start to appear around Stubbs, using Pendennis’ old MO. Peter quickly becomes the prime suspect. He has to figure out just what is going on while dodging the police.
From a SF standpoint, Shift has some interesting stuff in it. Stubbs postulates, then proves, that the human mind exists not just in three dimensional space, but also projects into higher dimensions. With the proper techniques, a person can split off a piece of their mind and, using the higher dimensions, can travel anywhere on Earth, or the galaxy. He uses this theory to show how out of body experiences and astral projections can really occur, although the people who experience them do so by accident. These wandering minds can also look into the third dimension and can ‘talk’ to people there, usually as a voice inside someone’s head. The danger being that one of these split minds can become lodged in someone else’s brain, hence the new Pendennis personality. We’re not talking hard science fiction here, but it does give a nice explanation for the above named supernatural abilities.
Storywise, Shift is more of a mixed bag. The first section is about Stubbs’ investigation of Pendennis, then of the murders occurring around him. This was well done, and you feel for Stubbs as he tries to figure out whats going on. This leads to Stubbs and Callander cavorting around the galaxy in higher space. Shift then becomes something of a first contact story, albeit a bit surreal. It then swings back to Earth and becomes a manhunt for the killer. This, to me, is the biggest weakness of the novel. The three different ‘sections’ vary dizzyingly in scope and just don’t seem to flow together very well. The other annoyance I had was that Stubbs’ favorite thing to say is “Think about it”. He must say this at least 20 times in the book, much more frequently at the end as he’s trying to persuade Louise to see things his way. It was a distraction.
Still, the characters are sympathetic and you root for them throughout the story. Also, to credit Dolley, there is no romantic angle that blooms between Stubbs and Callander. Their relationship is pretty much a professional one. With no romantic entanglements, the story was free to focus on the central plot points. Although, the novel ends in such a way that there very well could be a sequel so I suppose there is room for more changes in their relationship. I also felt that the character of John Bruce wasn’t really all that fleshed out. He basically is a bystander in his own story through the last part of the book. Also, I wanted more of Pendennis. His was the most interesting character here, sort of a Hannibal Lecter figure, even if not quite as sadistic and psychopathic as Lecter.
Shift is a really good science fiction story. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants something a bit different in their science fiction. I’ll have to look up Resonance now.