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Reflex
Steven Gould
Tor, 380 pages

Reflex
Steven Gould
Steven Gould has been publishing fiction since 1980 when his first short story, "The Touch of Their Eyes," was published in Analog. Since then, his stories have appeared in Analog, Amazing, Asimov's and various anthologies. His novels include Helm, Jumper, Wildside and Greenwar, written with his wife, Laura J. Mixon.

Steven Gould Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Blind Waves
SF Site Review: Helm
SF Site Interview: Steven Gould and Laura J. Mixon

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Jayme Lynn Blaschke

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In his 1992 debut novel, Jumper, Steven Gould introduced the world to Davy, a boy suffering from a particularly abusive home life who discovers his unique ability to teleport. During the course of the novel, Davy explores the limits of his powers, learning that he's limited to "jumping" to locations he's physically experienced, can take anything with him he can physically carry, and most definitely cannot jump when he's physically restrained. Eventually, Davy's abilities allow him to confront his inner demons, reunite with his estranged mother and, oh yeah, do battle with international terrorists.

More than a decade later, Gould has returned to Davy's story in Reflex. A like amount of time has passed in Davy's world, and the world's only teleporter has settled into a comfortable routine: he and his wife, Millie, use his gifts to explore the world at will, visiting exotic and distant lands at the drop of a hat -- the only disruption to this idyllic life comes during Davy's occasional mission for the National Security Agency. It's during one of these missions that things go horribly wrong for Davy. Ambushed, drugged and his NSA contact murdered before his eyes, Davy finds himself held prisoner and tortured beyond human endurance. There's a method to his captors' madness, he soon discovers -- they're training him, bending his body and his abilities to their will, for dark purposes.

Meanwhile, Millie is dealing with her own problems. Davy's abrupt departure left her stranded in the Aerie -- a hidden and inaccessible retreat deep in the West Texas desert -- with a long and perilous trek back to civilization ahead of her. One harrowing tumble down a precipitous cliff later, however, and she finds herself abruptly back in her Stillwater, Oklahoma apartment. After the shock and confusion subside, it slowly sinks in to Millie that she jumped. On her own. Without Davy. Jumping, it would seen, is an ability that can be learned. And if the NSA is unable, or unwilling, to find Davy, well then Millie will just have to use her newfound abilities and do it herself.

The thing I most admire about Gould's writing -- a trait he has displayed from Jumper through his subsequent novels -- is the rigor of it. He doesn't merely toss ideas out to see what sticks. Instead, each concept is carefully thought out and explored, the obvious and not-so-obvious implications carefully considered and reasoned well before they appear on the page. This served him well when he breathed freshness into the teleportation concept in Jumper, and again when he delved into the idea of parallel worlds in Wildside. It comes as no surprise that he applies this standard again in Reflex, and the fact that he's already done teleportation before stands as no obstacle. Gould merely picks up Davy's abilities where he left them, and asks "What's next." The answers are unexpected, startling and wholly satisfying. They have to be -- with a concept-dependent story such as Reflex set in contemporary society, the slightest misstep could shatter the carefully constructed verisimilitude. Fortunately, Gould is up to the challenge, whether he's dealing with Millie's hesitant first steps as a jumper, Davy's quiet war of resistance and rebellion against his captors, or his captors' determined campaign to erode his defenses. All ring true.

Fans of Jumper who come to Reflex looking for the same thing, only different, may be in for a bit of disappointment. While the original novel straddled the line separating adult from young adult fiction, Davy has grown up in the intervening years and faced down most of his inner conflict. His voyage of self-discovery was completed long ago, and Reflex is quite a different book because of it. Whereas conspiracy and shadowy government agencies lurked in the background of the first book, here they take center stage. At times, Reflex feels so much like an episode of The X-Files that the reader half-expects Fox Mulder to be assigned to Davy's missing persons case. Overt and oblique references to recent history abound -- from the war in Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- and as the mystery unfolds it becomes clear Gould is making unsubtle digs at deep-pocket special interests that wield disproportionate power and influence in the back rooms of Washington, D.C., these days. That it is an obvious target in no way diminishes the fact that it's a legitimate one, and the fact that Gould is able to pull it off without becoming preachy or strident is a credit to his discipline as a writer.

Originally titled Jumper(s), the novel was renamed (I presume) in order to avoid conveying any false promises to potential readers. While I can appreciate that line of thinking, and admit that Reflex is a perfectly serviceable and relevant moniker, I can't help but it is the weaker of the two. For all the effort invested into making Reflex stand on its own, it is very clearly a sequel, and works best when readers are familiar with its predecessor. Familiarity with Jumper will help, too, when the inevitable follow-up to Reflex comes out, as Gould leaves several blatant clues that he's not yet through with Davy and Millie. And therein lies the biggest problem I have with Gould's writing: He's too slow. With stories this entertaining, I certainly hope we don't have to wait another decade for the next installment.

Copyright © 2005 Jayme Lynn Blaschke

Jayme Lynn Blaschke writes science fiction and fantasy as well as related non-fiction. A collection of his interviews, Voices of Vision: Creators of Science Fiction and Fantasy Speak, is now available from the University of Nebraska Press and he also serves as fiction editor for RevolutionSF.com. His web log can be found at jlbgibberish.blogspot.com


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