Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Impulse by Steven Gould

Please do not judge this book by its cover, which is dour and subdued and drab. (Only one cover in a thousand ever quite looks like anyone involved really wanted it to look, anyway -- most of the time, it just hints at what it could have been.) Impulse is the third novel in a loose series about teleporters in the modern world -- following Gould's excellent first novel Jumper, nearly twenty years old now, and Reflex, but not the side-novel Jumper: Griffin's Story, which was related to the movie made from Jumper rather than the very separate world of the novels -- and Gould is just as colloquially readable a writer and engagingly compelling a plotter as he has ever been.

(The way I'd describe Gould to someone my age or older: remember how it was easier to just keep reading a Heinlein juvenile novel than to stop and do anything else? Gould has that same matter-of-fact, unflashy ability to roll out a story where putting it down is harder than reading just one more page.)

As Jumper was the story of Davey Rice, abused teen of an alcoholic father (and inadvertent discoverer of a very Bester-esque form of teleportation), and Reflex was the story of Davey's love Millie and how she saved him from the shadowy organization that wanted to break him to serve them, Impulse is the story of their daughter Milicent "Cent" Rice, born in hiding and kept secret from the world her entire life.

But Cent is fifteen when Impulse begins and even the best-behaved, most parents-loving teenager is going to want some space from her parents -- and some friends outside of them. So, once Cent learns how to "jump" herself -- as in Bester's Stars My Destination, at least some subset of humanity can learn to teleport, given the right life-or-death situation -- her parents eventually give in to her pleas and move from their secret isolated Arctic lodge to a typical house in a typical American suburb to give Cent the chance to live a typical life as a highschooler.

It doesn't work out that simply, of course -- that suburb has its own problems, and Cent isn't the type not to stick her nose in and try to make things better -- but Impulse never descends into melodrama. Gould instead manages the tricky feat of telling a story that includes dramatic events but isn't defined by them, and, which is possibly even trickier, creates real tension in a story about a family of teleporters without resorting to the usual genre trappings.

So: look past that drab cover, and this is a swell book -- suitable for older teens, as well as most skiffy-friendly readers above those years -- that has a certain flavor of Classic SF while still being modern and telling a great story mostly from the point of view of an up-to-date, contemporary young woman. I can't say that Gould did Cent's voice "right" -- I'm not a girl, and haven't been a teenager for two decades -- but he gave her a great voice, and a great story to tell in that voice, so I'm pretty confident that even readers with a much more immediate knowledge of the inside of teenage girls' heads would really enjoy it.

1 comment:

Mike G. said...

Loved this book (and the whole series).

Any teens that enjoy this should be handed _Helm_ and _Wildside_ immediately - two other eminently readable Gould books with young protagonists.

_7th Sigma_ is also very cool.

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