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October 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Probability Space by Nancy Kress 
Tor Hardcover
: ISBN 0765301709 PubDate Sept 2002
Review by Laurie J. Marks
368 pages List price $24.95  
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Probability Space is the final book in Nancy Kress's Probability trilogy.  Its plot is as intricate as a physics equation: an alien artifact found on the planet World is discovered to be the weapon that can overcome the Fallers, a ruthless alien race engaged in a xenophobic war against the humans.  In order to secure the weapon, the flower-loving, peaceful culture of World has been sacrificed, and now the weapon is in the control of the latest dictator of humankind, a man "blinded by egomania."  He is unable to perceive (or care) that incautious deployment of the weapon will destroy not just the Fallers' home system, but the entire universe.  So an unlikely group of fallible, complicated, contradictory characters engage in a heroic effort to prevent the inadvertent flop-transition that will destroy spacetime.

In such a complex equation, the human variables are crucial: Fourteen-year-old Amanda is determined to find her kidnapped physicist father and is helped on her way by an Oz-like group of helpers; Capelo, the physicist who never sets down his hand-held, develops his equations too slowly for them to be predictive; Marbat, a Sensitive, might be empathetic enough to understand the Fallers but cannot understand her own lover; the military man Kaufman is flailed by guilt over the destruction of World culture that he could not prevent and would not change; Magdalena, a woman of vast power may succumb to the ghostly despairs of her dark past.  In Probability Space, it is the random events that prove to be the most significant: luck, and accident, send the heroes on a frantic final chase across space and time, with the doors between systems slamming shut behind them.  It is a wild ride out to the Faller system, and an even wilder ride back.  From one page to the next, it's amazing these adventurers are still alive.

There is so much to admire in Kress's writing, particularly her treatment of the persistence of morality in the face of an amoral universe.  She writes realistically about the impossibility of right action when people have neither omniscience nor omnipotence, but only simple (bad) luck.  Yet the people in this novel do not relinquish their determination to do right, and perhaps that determination is what matters.  But the complicated plot seems over determined ("Not another peril!" I groan.) and the characters often are oddly unsympathetic.  Unfortunate gender stereotypes abound: the spunky, brainy girl ("The bravest and stubbornest and stupidest child...ever met"), the tortured fading beauty obsessed with her son, the eccentric male genius scientist, the woman whose talent is to ingratiate herself, the stiff-upper-lip career soldier.  Perhaps this book has so many characters, and such a demanding plot, that a reader should be satisfied to merely be offered intelligent coherence.  This very smart book is not perfect, but it is challenging and satisfying.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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