One of the smartest, funniest, most upbeat novels I’ve ever read, wise and insightful–and it’s an indie novel!
Fans of The Neanderthal’s Aunt (another indie novel) by Dr. Gina DeMarco are sure to love Taylor’s humor too. The review I wrote for Perihelion Science Fiction, February 2014, was aimed at a science-fiction audience. In truth, I’m not sure this novel belongs in the science fiction genre at all, but then, it’s often not clear to me how other novels marketed as science fiction get away with the label.
The title, I confess, was the first thing that drew me to “Sex, Rain and Cold Fusion.” Taylor’s ability to make me love a maddeningly flawed protagonist is what kept me reading to the end and wishing for more.
The trope of the unreliable narrator is employed to great comic success with keen, authentic insights into human nature. If science fiction’s first concern is humanity, this novel scores. From the first line, I was smitten. Chapter 1: Like many of David Oster’s bad decisions, his escape from California to the state of Washington would be justified with an orgy of lies. The worse the decision, the more he liked to sugarcoat it to his critics, and in this instance, he prepared himself for a virtuoso performance.
A quick synopsis may be in order: David Oster is a brilliant physicist in search of a more lucrative job. He wants the financial backing of a professorship to pursue his scientific experiments but not the burden of trying to explain science to young blockheads. He flees his current post and three girlfriends for the Pacific Northwest, vowing to avoid undergraduates and any more romantic entanglements. Quantum entanglements would be welcome, if he ever gets funding to get down deep in the ocean to conduct his experiments and find the fifth dimension.
His new life in a small college town in Washington is clouded by perpetual rain, a demented boss, a commission to spy on his philandering neighbor, attempted murder, torrential rains inundating his rental home, demands that he teach a class after all (but they promised he wouldn’t have to!), a Latvian neighbor who distrusts all Russians, especially the mysterious equestrian with long white hair and a great figure who sabotages David’s vow to celibately engage in scholarly pursuits, more rain punctuated by occasional moments of sunshine, a confusing love triangle—more like a quadratic of unknown dimensions—involving several beautiful women and their lovers, and occasional moments of gray sky minus the rain. With several crazy physicists imploding into his social and professional life, David needs to discover some entirely new physics principle, as yet unnamed, before Heinrich the dog and a herd of horses charge onto the university’s expensive new basketball court and do real damage to David’s reputation.
Spoiler alerts prevent me from revealing whether David ever discovers the fifth force. The story is so wickedly fun, I’m grateful to have physics mentioned at all in a book that I had hoped to review for serious, hard science fiction only readers. The supposedly science fiction thriller I mentioned earlier spoke of the four forces of nature and a suspected fifth force. If that counts as science fiction, so does this passage from Taylor:
Besides the four known forces in nature—gravity, electromagnetism, the weak nuclear force (responsible for radioactive decay), and the strong nuclear force (that holds atomic nuclei together)—many physicists have wondered if a fifth force exists. Taylor also manages to make it fun: Down there, in that torrid, turbid world of extremes, how could he discern the workings of a fifth force so slight that showed itself in traces, in small tugs at the universe? The other four forces are loud and noisy; they hit you in the head, or they blow you up. But the fifth force is like the potential energy of a hummingbird’s wings, only known in its sly beatings.
David’s sleuthing for his allegedly insane boss is more the slapstick variety of The Three Stooges than of a scientist, but Taylor convinces me this is entirely plausible. Every character is believable but eccentric and well-drawn. Taylor’s mastery of deep point of view, along with her unerring observation of human folly, kept me turning pages. I love David’s surprise and panic when a peer approaches him with questions he shouldn’t be in any position to ask.
How did he know he (David) was even pursuing the fifth force? He had mentioned it only once in an earlier paper and in a very guarded way, calling it merely “an unknown force.” Likewise, I love David’s frequent bouts of disillusionment: … he thought then and there of abandoning his research, despite the good words of his benefactor. Who really cared? Maybe people wouldn’t want to know that another force existed in the universe. Even though it would affect fundamental physics, it would have no practical application whatsoever. And that reminds me of another favorite (but ouch-inducing) line: No non-scientist, no matter how bright, actually wants to talk physics, nor can they.
So many, many lines in this book are worth sharing, but it would be better if everyone just read the book. To grasp the subtlety of the humor, it’s necessary to view the whole. But in defense of science being present in this fiction, I’ll add this:He’s developed a fascination with applied physics, or rather the conviction that physicists don’t apply physics anymore because they’ve descended down into the world of subatomic particles or up into the Big Bang. We’re too busy counting quarks, something like that. At the word “quark,” Valerie stiffened a bit but didn’t interrupt him.
A fellow book critic told me, “Science fiction writers generally don’t do character and deep emotion well, and romance writers don’t even understand what science fiction is—even when they write romantic science fiction. Writers who can do both are hard to find, but tend to do well because they hit the audience that actually gives a damn about this stuff.” I’ve said almost nothing about the romance in this novel but the full title is a sort of disclosure in and of itself: “Sex, Rain and Cold Fusion: The Physics of Modern Love.” The human component wins me over, scene after scene. David has a family history of emotional dysfunction, which never presents as info-dumps or flashbacks, but seamlessly factors into the chaos of his life. He panics when Viktor gets emotional: David would have to encourage him, be “supportive,” in that particular way that he loathed, and when Viktor dares to weep,David didn’t know what to say but felt more powerfully than ever a certain blank in his personality, as if there were a tablet in his brain upon which nothing had been written. His family had no words for sorrow, that was it. Beyond sadness, they burned with a fiery rage that blackened them from inside.
In the end, David and two unlikely partners do get down deep into the ocean, and something is, in fact, discovered. (No, not love; it’s something scientific and new.) I have to say this is one of the most gratifying endings in all of contemporary fiction. Call me a sequel-hater, but I would welcome a next-in-a-series about David’s oceanographic physics discoveries. However, this jewel of a novel comes with true closure, whose departure (in deference to serials) Jack Williamson lamented at the turn of the century (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November, 1999).
Taylor is an award-wining playwright, essayist, and fiction writer. She’s earned many awards in many categories of writing. She has a short humor piece in “So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library.” Her Amazon author page says “To learn more visit lonecamel.com,” which I did, only to come up empty handed. (There’s a book trailer, but it fails to capture the humor and brilliance of the novel.) In an age where authors promote themselves to excess and fill cyberspace with their personals, pet photos and minute by minute updates of their blog tours and book signings, I have to say it’s a pleasant surprise to find a writer of such talent who has the confidence to keep her private life private.
A.R. Taylor is one of the most incisive and witty writers of our time. She nails the human condition the way all good science fiction authors should. She captures all our flaws, brilliance, self-delusions, failed powers of observation and deduction, and our ultimate triumph over thwarted hopes. Taylor masters every category of writing fiction, from character, dialogue, point of view, narrative pace, conflict, irony, and well-crafted prose, to earning the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief. I look forward to more novels from her, and must find her short stories and screen plays.
Praise for SEX, RAIN, AND COLD FUSION from onehundredfreebooks.com
You need A. R. Taylor’s new book at least as much as you need the items identified in her title: “Sex, Rain, and Cold Fusion.” There is no author funnier or smarter, nobody who packs her punch. She assumes unshakeable residence in the back of your mind. Along the way she reveals a hitherto undiscovered principle of physics: the force called A. R. Taylor.” — Joseph Di Prisco, novelist, ALL FOR NOW.
“A. R. Taylor is wildly funny in a very serious sort of way – thought-provoking, cool, she doesn’t throw a baseball like a girl, neither does she write like one. Her work involves boisterous, hilarious fun, tinged with a poignant vibe. I want her to write a book about me.” — Diana Ketcham, Writer and Editor, San Francisco
“I haven’t been allowed to read SEX, RAIN, AND COLD FUSION , but I am going to get a copy when the folks give me my allowance on Saturday. It’s about doing it (fusion) while taking a cold shower. The author is older than my mother but hotter. She lives near us and sits on the porch in a bikini. I deliver her newspaper and think about her all the time, even when I’m taking a cold shower.” — Andrew Hoyem, Publisher, San Francisco
“A.R. Taylor is one of my favorite writers, and SEX RAIN and COLD FUSION is funny and wise, wet and wonderful.” –Jeanne Martinet, author of ETIQUETTE FOR THE END OF THE WORLD.