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by Chris Dolley

(Baen Books, 389 pages, uncorrected book proof reviewed, available in hardback priced $24.00, published November 2005.)

Review by Keith Brooke

cover scanIn 2004 Chris Dolley's Resonance became the first book to be plucked from Baen's electronic slushpile, which alone makes Baen's experiment with electronic submissions a huge success. Resonance is a tremendously accomplished book for a first published novel and immediately raises Dolley into the ranks of writers to watch.

Resonance is certainly a page-turner, and Dolley's credentials as a suspense writer shine through -- this may be his first published novel, but an earlier one was short-listed for the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award for best first mystery. It's a head-over-heels romp through ever-changing realities, crammed with great set-pieces, excellent hooks and some nice one-liners to leaven the mix. Yesterday, I only read the first few chapters to prepare them to go online at infinity plus. Right now, I'm running a d ay late because I just kept on reading until I'd finished the whole book. I hope you feel guilty, Mr Dolley.

To the story... Graham Smith isn't like other people. He never was. He saw what was happening around him -- the changes in the world, the fact that people he had thought dead could just turn up out of the blue, that his key might not fit his front door because it wasn't his front door... He assumed it was like that for everybody. As a child he learned not to ask troubling questions about this, and he developed a series of bizarre techniques that helped him both to orientate himself in a changing world and to try to control the changing itself. Over the years, Graham became convinced that it was a combination of ritual and observation which held the fabric of the world together: "Take away the observer and the world unravels." This concept is brilliantly illustrated by the logic-inverting observation that the oldest buildings in a city are always the ones surrounded by tourists: "Their walls thickened by centuries of observation and held together by the ritual of guided tours."

As Graham negotiates this ever-changing backdrop he encounters a young woman who seems to understand. But among Graham's defences is the facility for shutting himself off from any kind of social interaction, so much so that many people think him deaf, mute or even mentally dysfunctional. Communication is alien to his nature, and yet he'll have to break out of his self-imposed shell if he's to understand why everything seems to be getting worse. And dangerous. As events escalate, with Graham always at their often-violent centre, and various gangs of thugs pursuing him in order to stop him doing whatever it is that he does, the story of Resonance becomes as much a battle with Graham's nature as with external forces. So, an internal conflict, then. With guns.

For much of the time, the reader is in the same position as Graham: you can't believe anything that's going on, can't trust it, because before you know it things will be different again. But at the same time, you have to believe it if you're going to unravel the explanation for Graham's strange existence and its world-shattering implications.

It's quite a challenge for an author to juggle such a complex scenario, with its multiple, variable strands. It's quite a feat to actually pull it off as successfully as Dolley does. And it's all the more impressive that a new author should do so. I'm looking forward to seeing what he does next.

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