by Kyt Dotson
When I first started reading Strange Attractors by Jeffrey A. Carver, I found myself taken aback by what felt like a somewhat unorthodox writing style. It comes across immediately as a piece of genre fiction and reads like a space opera adventure: a man, thrust into the strangeness of the galaxy must both discover his whereabouts and save the universe itself. That combined with some strange typography started to turn me off. However, as a veteran science fiction reader I’ve become accustomed to unorthodox writing, space operas, and strange typography for portraying alternate modes of communication (like inner-mind telepathy or voices in the head.)
The other problem is that this is the second book in a series and I haven’t read the first one. However, after reading this, I can probably say, due to its nature as an adventure story the first book isn’t needed to fully understand what’s going on. The main character, John Bandicut, will constantly relate back to the previous book as part of his past like any other human being will recollect their recent past in order to make sense of their current situation.
And what a situation it is.
After the events of Neptune Crossing: Volume One of the ‘Chaos Chronicles’, John Bandicut and his two robot assistants Copernicus and Napoleon find themselves stranded in a strange new land. A different world. A world that turns out to be in fact not just a single world but an astroengineering megastructure that contains worlds that they begin to call the “shipworld.”
Like any good space opera adventure, John Bandicut is on the shipworld because something has gone seriously wrong and his help is needed to head off a disaster that could threaten every one of the countless worlds on shipworld. He is thrust together with two new companions (aside from his quirky robots) who also have been experiencing their own pull to adventure from an unknown attractor: Ik and Li-Jared. He can only understand them through the intervention of translator devices embedded in his wrists called daughter stones (Ik and Li-Jared also have them.)
Along for the ride is also a character from Neptune Crossing named Charlie, a fractal-dimensional sentience who literally has infinite lives. He speaks to John in his head using a rather difficult to follow typographical choice that involves centered speech with double greater-than and less-than signs to designate his dialogue. Only Bandicut can hear Charie, but he provides the role of an external narrator to foil John’s condition and deliver exposition about what’s going on.
For example, the series name Chaos Chronicles is not by accident. In fact, a strange attractor is a concept from chaos theory math that refers to a type of attractor—i.e. a point, line, plane, or manifold that causes other points to stay in proximity, the points might shift slightly but they don’t stray far. A strange attractor is an attractor that’s modeled by a fractal, or an extremely complex shape made of repeating simple shapes that recurses back onto itself. Fortunately, it’s not necessary to understand this to understand the book: the metaphor is used to explain why John, Ik, and Li-Jared keep getting drawn back together again and are pressed into service to save shipworld.
Every space opera adventure needs a big bad evil for the heroes to overcome and Strange Attractors has an excellent one: the boojum. The name is selected by John’s translator stones for an insubstantial but extremely ferocious threat attempting to destroy or destabilize shipworld. A boojum is a type of creature imagined by Lewis Caroll, writer of Alice in Woderland, that describes a type of snark—or an unimaginable creature—and the boojum is the most dangerous type of snark.
Throughout the book, the boojum is the ultimate boogeyman. An enemy without shape or form which seems to affect the very environs of shipworld itself. It seems to have no rhyme or reason, no body, nothing for the band of adventures to strike at. Just a seething need to see the shipworld destroyed and an unknown movie for its hostile intent. It infects things like a virus would and moves against and alongside them with an intelligent malevolence.
John, Ik, Li-Jared, Charlie the quarx, and the two robots all work together to resolve their role in saving the shipworld from the boojum; but all along also seek to understand why they’ve been taken far from home to this place. Each of them has been essentially stolen from their homeworld, homesystems, and homegalaxies to the shipworld and thrust together.
As Strange Attractors is the second book in the series, and there are current four books (with a fifth on the way) there’s still a lot of ground for the characters to cover even after they overcome the boojum.