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A Signal Shattered
Eric S. Nylund
Avon EOS Books, 378 pages

A Signal Shattered
Eric S. Nylund
Eric S. Nylund was born in 1964 in Los Angles. His academic background includes a B.S. in chemistry and an M.S. in Chemical Physics. Like many writers, he began after deciding that he could tell a story as well as those whose novels appear in the stores. While attending the Clarion West Writers Workshop he met his fiancée, Syne Mitchell.

Eric S. Nylund Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Signal To Noise
Eric S. Nylund at Avon Books

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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Eric S. Nylund's A Signal Shattered continues the story begun in his previous novel, Signal to Noise. As the novel begins, Jack Potter and a few friends and acquaintances, all of whom have a good reason to distrust at least one of the others, are stranded on the moon with a limited oxygen supply, dwindling energy resources, and no way to escape. Things go downhill from there. Or, as Jack notes several times during the book, all his solutions seem to lead to more and more problems.

Readers of Signal to Noise will recall that Jack Potter, an accomplished scientist and businessman, decoded a signal that led to contact with an alien who called himself Wheeler. Wheeler offered to trade technology that would make Jack rich, and Jack accepted eagerly. Unfortunately, Wheeler's goal is not profitable trade, but exploitation. All the technology that Jack acquires is booby-trapped. Wheeler's version of trade results in the destruction of any civilization that is naïve enough to deal with him. Jack realizes this when Wheeler uses him to contact another technological civilization, which is subsequently destroyed. Jack repents and tries to act against Wheeler, and the result is the destruction of the Earth.

This is, of course, a variation on the Faust legend, with Jack as Faust and Wheeler as the Devil. One of the strengths of Signal to Noise was that even though Jack repents and tries to atone for his actions, he is unable to escape their consequences. In A Signal Shattered, Jack struggles to save not only himself, but also the few other human beings who have escaped the end of the Earth. To do so, he must somehow learn to understand the alien technology well enough to avoid the built-in dangers and use it against Wheeler. All the while, Wheeler pressures and tempts Jack to abandon his new-found sense of responsibility.

While it is possible to follow the story of A Signal Shattered without having read Signal to Noise, reading the previous novel helps immensely while trying to understand the relationships and schemes of the other characters. A Signal Shattered is in essence a one character novel, and Jack is the viewpoint character and also the only one who develops during the course of the novel. The other characters, including Isabel, Panda, Reno, and Zero, generally maintain the characteristics that were established for them in Signal to Noise. For this reason, I would recommend reading Signal to Noise before tackling A Signal Shattered.

But for those who have already read Signal to Noise, A Signal Shattered is a more than satisfying conclusion to the story. Nylund's prose style is vivid and evocative, and the story moves quickly along from the narrow confines of the Moon to eventually encompass the entire Milky Way galaxy. Along the way, Nylund comes up with some inventive uses for quantum physics that would do either Greg Bear or Gregory Benford proud. A Signal Shattered provides us with a high-tech adventure story whose core revolves around an interesting character struggling to overcome his own moral failings. The result is a highly entertaining, thought-provoking novel, that should establish Eric S. Nylund among the first rank of science fiction writers.

Copyright © 1999 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson thinks that Signal to Noise and A Signal Shattered should be extra fun for anyone involved in the SETI@Home Project (http://www.planetary.org/news/SETI-join-update.html). His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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