Refraction by Wick Welker
Refraction has three storylines set about 80-100 years apart from each other, between circa 1980 and circa 2150. The first of these follows a scientist, Timothy Straus, as he works on a groundbreaking discovery. The second, set in the middle time period, follows Caleb (aka “Cal”) as he learns some of the darker secrets behind his cloistered dream life. The third is centered around Custos, a sentient robot who has become the President of Mars. While these stories initially seem unconnected apart from the link of the first two characters hearing voices, they eventually become entangled within each other in deeply connected ways.
What’s remarkable about this is that at no point did the entanglement of these narratives seem contrived or forced. Welker does a simply phenomenal job of weaving a cohesive narrative across three timelines while keeping readers on the edge of their seat the whole time. It would be easy to fall into numerous traps in this story that eventually features some common stumbling blocks like time travel or temporal difficulties, but time and again Welker makes them fresh or, minimally, presents them in a way that is sensible within the narrative.
Moreover, each society and time period felt fleshed out and full of side characters who mattered. There were several minor characters in each timeline, and they all read as genuine characters that had interactions with our protagonists in ways that had real impact on the plot and characters. The science-y aspects were detailed enough to survive the suspension of disbelief, and the big reveals, when they started to hit, were fun even if occasionally predictable. If I have one complaint, it’s that it could stand to be maybe 50 pages shorter to tighten up some of the narrative. In particular, there’s one part that’s basically just a lengthy scene of explaining why a bunch of different societal structures are doomed to fail. It reads more like a diatribe than something in-character for the novel. That and a few other scenes could be cut out or shortened down to make the flow of the novel better.
The book is almost 450 pages but I sat down on my day off and marathoned through the last third or so of it over a morning (cat on my lap, the best way to read!) because I couldn’t get enough of it. This is a compelling science fiction yarn, folks. It truly is books like this that are the reason I love delving into indie novels. You find treats like this that make all the effort worth it. If you’re a fan of hard sci-fi or character-driven narratives, I recommend Refraction very highly.
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