Visiting a different alien world in almost every chapter: meeting strange new life-forms, boldly going where no one has gone before… In many ways, Entanglement harks back to the heyday of golden age science fiction and one weekly TV series in particular.
Except this is no star trek. There’s no trekking to the stars. Instead author Douglas Thompson reaches for the high concept of quantum mechanics and particle entanglement to teleport his explorers to each new environment.
The result is a highly entertaining collection of individual adventures which are linked together by background chapters to form an overall arc. We learn about the early and not entirely successful experiments with the ‘dupliportation’ technology, which facilitate the transfer of human consciousness from a sleeping body on earth to a woken twin on some far-flung planet. Then the action centres on a series of less-than-ideal missions to increasingly unusual worlds with liquid atmospheres, bizarre geology, days that last for years, eternal nights, and dozens of weird alien species. And some weird species which turn out not to be so alien after all.
There’s a hugely nostalgic feel to Entanglement, perhaps because of the stand-alone pulp-fiction style of the off-world adventures which could so easily have appeared in Astounding Tales, way back when. I was also strongly reminded of HG Wells’ Time Machine – there are echoes of the Morlocks and Eloi. Douglas Thompson seizes this opportunity to carry on where Wells left off, giving us glimpses of strange social systems and convoluted communities.
And you do get plenty of alien encounters in this book. I had to slow myself down because I was scampering through the chapters and bouncing straight from one weird world to the next without actually absorbing the impact of each piece. In that respect, Entanglement is best read in short chunks, one adventure at a time. Thompson liberally hurls dozens of creations into the mix – the universe is teeming with life, it seems – and tantalisingly highlights the odder aspects of his imaginary civilisations. Sometimes the explorers are confounded by freaky life-cycles while on other planets they commit ghastly religious and social faux pas. Some aliens are hostile while others couldn’t care less. I found that I longed to spend more time with several of them, and would appreciate a return trip to some of these worlds. That’s a sign of the job well done by the author; definitely left me wanting more…
Entanglement isn’t exactly heavy on the hard science so you won’t get bogged down in endless technobabble. In fact, I struggled a bit with the suspension of disbelief thing when the dupliportation device suddenly started working in both directions – but it’s kinda like the Stargate in this respect. Don’t worry too much about how it works, just accept that it’s a necessary and quite nifty plot device to deliver the protagonists to the next situation. These stories are all about repeated first contact and what it reveals, and you don’t need a PhD to enjoy the creative sweep of the author’s wildly eclectic worlds and their incongruous inhabitants.
As is the way with the very best sci-fi, every encounter says far more about humans than it does about the extra-terrestrial life forms. Each episode (and the overall background story) makes a distinct philosophical point and, while some of these observations are uplifting and affirming, others are most definitely sobering and poignant.
Which isn’t to say that Entanglement is all serious and po-faced. It’s not. There are several moments of wickedly adept humour – not least when the explorers meet the aliens who’ve been abducting humans from Earth for decades, and endure their inevitable invasive probing…
If Entanglement has a flaw it’s in the sketchy nature of the characters. The explorers change with each away mission so we never get to know them; they are essentially little more than a pair of names attached to red shirts. And although we spend a lot more time with the people back on Earth who developed the technology and run the exploration programme, I struggled to engage with the majority of them. The most intriguing character, the seemingly autistic son of the mission director, got really interesting just as the action drew to a close. Now that would be a very interesting sequel!
Thompson has a very easy-going writing style which means you can dip in and out of this collection of stories without struggling to get back into the groove. Some of his descriptions of other worlds are wonderful, but he doesn’t sacrifice the pace of the plot for overblown self-indulgent stunt-writing. My attention was fixed firmly on the page throughout.
If you enjoy short speculative fantasy or sci-fi stories (or ongoing TV serials!) then Entanglement should provide several hours of agreeable, thought-provoking entertainment.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Entanglement by Douglas Thompson is available as an ebook and a paperback from Amazon
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