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The Wrong Reflection

by Gillian Bradshaw

(Ace Books, US $6.50 / Canada $9.99, 362 pages, paperback; 2003. First published 2000.)

cover scanFive stars.

This is one of those books where I can't tell you a great deal about it without blowing most of what makes it so good. What I can tell you is that it's a strikingly original work of science fiction, and the most heart-wrenching romance I've read since Christie Golden's Instrument of Fate. It tells what is essentially a hard science story through the soft lens of sociology, a flawless marriage of these two ends of the SF spectrum. Run out and spend your lunch money on this book.

The story begins when Sandra Murray discovers a car half-sunk in a river. Inside the car she finds a man, whom she rescues and manages to revive. Yet when he awakes in the hospital, the victim feels out of place -- certain of nothing except that he is not Paul Anderson, as his identification declares him and everyone else believes him to be. Curious about what happened to the man she rescued, Sandra tracks him down in the hospital and gets involved with his search for his true identity.

What begins as a classic motif -- amnesia, misplaced identity, a quest for the truth -- soon evolves into something infinitely deeper. The mystery is presented with flawless detail and fidelity, and the ultimate nature of Not-Anderson's identity completely blindsided me. (It's rare that an author manages to surprise me, after all the fiction I've read; and I cherish the experience when I do find it.) Yet on re-reading the novel, all the early material fits with the eventual resolution.

The characterization in this book is also brilliant. Despite his amnesiac state, Not-Anderson emerges as a fully-realized and unique individual from the moment he regains consciousness. He demonstrates specific, consistent personality traits that hint at his true nature; as the story progresses, he also grows a great deal, learning to balance logic with emotion. Sandra begins as a "Good Samaritan" but rapidly reveals an underlying band of common sense to go with her compassion. She is the first person to take Not-Anderson's feelings and convictions seriously. As other supporting characters come onstage, they each exhibit their own particular quirks, ranging from steadfast loyalty to blind hatred.

The Wrong Reflection transcends both genre and motif. It takes several classic story elements and does something new and extraordinary with them. The result is a must-read for fans of soft and hard SF alike.

Review by Elizabeth Barrette.

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