Inevitable by Steven Cotton is a superb mix of hard core science with philosophy, delicately underlined with a romantic thread.
I love Inevitable! It doesn’t dumb down* scientific ideas – it adds to them and ‘runs away’ with them to create a novel which leaves you panting at the end thinking “Blimey…this could actually happen!” Is this a huge thought experiment laid out as a novel by Steven Cotton, or is it a description of what is to come?
(*OK, I should of course add the caveat that maybe I’m a “dumbo” and that I’m reading at my own level…but I’d like to think that isn’t the case! 😉
Dr Jake Banner’s Egyptian friend, Dr Syed Azad, discovers an ancient stone tablet which bears Schrodinger’s equation on it. Jake enlists help from a friend and colleague, Dr Linda Cooper, and together they visit Syed in Egypt to glean more information relating to the tablet – it’s origin, and how the message came to be there. Analyses show that there is additional information to the equation, and that there are a further 2 tablets with similar mysteries surrounding them. The story is centered around both the meaning and the origin of the messages hidden within these 3 stone tablets.
Inevitable is written in the first person – and needs to be because much of the beauty of this novel is the thought process that Jake undertakes. This isn’t the mundane “I thought I was hungry so I ate something”, it’s on a higher intellectual level. He uses quotes from research and novels that he’s read, even imaginary conversations with eminent people inside his head(!). The follow-on thought processes and introspection are what drives the plot forwards.
It’s important to note though that Jake isn’t a dried up crusty old scientist who sits in his ivory tower. He has an interest in many things outside the scientific realm, and the important take home message here is that the first person narrative is told in a chatty manner and not as a tedious lecture.
Jake is friends with Egyptologist Syed. Syed speaks with very slightly incorrect English which serves as a realistic point of interest rather than as a disruption (some authors spell out accents phonetically which I find really irritating.) Although the friendship between Jake and Syed is a bit laboured, it is through Syed that Jake finds out about the tablet, and it is through Syed’s local connections that analyses on the tablet care performed to reveal hidden messages. It is also through Syed that another two tablets are recovered which also contain messages – and later a fourth, albeit written in a different ‘accent’.
Jake bounces his ideas off friend and colleague Linda. She’s quick to latch onto the ideas behind what Jake thinks, but ultimately she’s the romantic interest rather than a real asset to the furtherment of understanding as to what’s going on with these tablets.
Overall, it seems that Syed does the work and Jake does the thinking with a little help from Linda. It’s a bizarre form of muscle, brains and beauty.
Where “stone tablets” immediately make me think of the Biblical Moses, the extraction of information from them reminds me of the Contact movie, based on Carl Sagan’s novel of the same name. In the movie (I can’t remember if it was also in the novel) the extraction of information from a seemingly simple signal received extra-terrestrially became increasingly complex, and that’s what Jake and his crew discover with the tablets.
Syed’s analyses don’t directly lead to understanding much of the meaning or origin of the tablet messages, but several thought experiments and theories are thrown into the mixing pot and are carried forward to varying extents to see if any hold any merit. Was Schrodinger scooped by 5 thousand years, or were the tablets transported back in time to ancient Egypt from the future? Are there multiple universes and / or time lines? To what extent do ontological paradoxes mean that our experiences are pre-programmed, and crucially – what does that mean?
Sometimes I found that the assumptions within the logical way of thinking things through seemed a bit too abrupt; for example, the idea that future versions of “ABC” (Azad, Banner and Cooper) sent themselves these tablets. In itself, this idea reminded me of something similar though I can’t remember where (possibly Greg Bear’s Eon?), but apart from the alphabetiscism, the idea seemed to come out of nowhere and got latched on to and taken forwards without any external corroboration.
To be fair, many of these ideas came out of deep and complex scientific principles which are only lightly touched upon. Indeed, the author (Steven Cotton) is currently working on general relativity and quantum mechanics and I’d be willing to accept that he knows what he’s on about when it comes to scientific footings.
The glaring open question for me was: how do these guys know they have all of the tablets? Indeed, an additional fourth tablet was found, though it’s different from the first three in subtle ways. Ultimately, the (or a) complete picture could be painted from what was available – so enough is provided from which the ‘correct’ explanation could be derived. This makes sense if ABC really did send these tablets to themselves – but is this really so?
Time travel within Inevitable
Is Inevitable a time travel novel? I’ve discussed before whether a time travel novel ‘should’ centre on the method and intricacies of time travel, or more on the destination – what happens once the time traveller has got to their temporal destination.
It turns out that Inevitable provides a third option: a novel where travelling through time is not necessarily central to the plot but plays a key and integral role in the scientific setting of parallel universes and cross communication.
So as yet (this is the first book of a series) there is no explicit time machine, but there are many interesting thoughts about time, its nature and what scientists and philosophers think about it. The ideas of eternalism (that all present moments exist concurrently and can be picked and chosen at will like a card from a stack of playing cards), quantum entanglement, predestination and inevitability are integral within the plot and play a vital role along with other scientific and philosophical ideas.
This isn’t a novel with the mundane bits left out; an unrealistic crystallisation of the juicy sci-fi and nothing else. Rather, this is how it might actually happen, complete with conversations in coffee bars, chats on planes and hanging around waiting for phone calls. Stuff that happens but which isn’t particularly interesting.
Jake and Linda visit Syed in Egypt so there’s some information about the culture and the political and religious situation there. At times this seemed to be overdone and given too much attention. It’s real life and in keeping with how Jake would both act and think but is it all necessary as a scene setter? Personally I don’t really think so, but I say this with a caveat: earlier in the book Jake questions why Egypt was chosen as a place to ‘hide’ the tablets. This isn’t fully resolved by the end of the book, and I wonder whether it will be returned to in subsequent books in the series.
There’s a long section on the developing romance between Jake and Linda. I can imagine that the romantic thread was woven into the novel after the main story line was drafted. Thankfully it’s realistic more than contrived, but like my comments above, whilst true to life it got a bit tedious to read. Ultimately, all the stuff about Egypt and the small talk chatting that romance often seems to require meant that it took some 200 pages to simply organise a scan of the tablets.
Of course, this is realistic. In real life things take much longer than they should. Especially at work. But sometimes I like to pick up a book to escape real life.
Ironically, I should mention that chapters have both a title and relevant quotations. I found the quotes a nice tie-in between the fictional element of the novel with our real world history where people have actually said these things.
Earlier I briefly touched on that this is the first book of a series. Whilst the final explanation is not underlined and finalised (that’s the nature of this novel), there are other questions and loose ends which remain open.
That said, Inevitable makes a good stand-alone read, and there is no cliff hanger, sudden stop, “To be continued…” or suchlike to warrant reading Book 2 a necessity.
But…I’m glad there is one (and I should admit here that I’ve read selected sections of the opening chapters and it’s looking very promising!)
I don’t normally comment on the art but I will here – I think it lets down the content. In retrospect after reading the novel (or even perhaps just the title and tagline Inevitable: The future has already happened) I can see the idea of “OK then, no free will, let’s just relax and be peaceful” so we have an image of a beach and birds highlighting serenity. But there’s so much more inside the covers.
Whereas the front cover is probably a matter of taste, I’m feeling a little bit mislead by the back cover blurb.
Here we read that Linda Cooper is a molecular biologist so I expected some molecular biology – why else would it be mentioned in the cover blurb? It turns out that she’s bright, quick and intelligent. She’s a good sounding block for Jake, and someone with whom he can share his thoughts and ideas for feedback, or just relax with.
And the “Follow their adventure” line gave me the impression there would be some sort of Indiana Jones – type thing going on, but “adventure” here means “intellectual adventure” in pretty much the same way that a novel doesn’t actually take you off to far away places like a plane ticket would.
Anyway. These are small points and other than marketing reasons, they’re not that important other than they give credence to the “don’t judge a book by its cover” adage.
Rating * * * * *
Despite the disclaimer at the end of this review – the rating is NOT inevitable. There. I’ve made the obvious pun and now I’ll give my rating out of my own free will (or at least under my own personal illusion of it).
Full 5 stars! Inevitable makes me think under my own steam and with the protagonist. It doesn’t patronise, it just gets on with it! It shows that between the mundane events of life there can be deep scientific and philosophical thoughts which challenge the way we view the reality of the life we think we’re living.
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Disclaimer: I received a free copy of “Inevitable” from Word Slinger Publicity to read and provide an honest review. This is it!
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