Douglas Phillips’ Inexplicable Incident
Despite all our most technologically-advanced tools and observation methods, the realms of space travel and physics still successfully hide innumerable secrets from our gaze. There are all too many composing elements of this world we can only theorize about, but for the characters in Douglas Phillips’ Quantum Space, the hour of theories is coming to an end; the time has come for practice.
Marking the beginning of the hard science-fiction Quantum Series, the story opens by acquainting us with the most recent inexplicable event in space flight. As the Russian Soyuz capsule, with three astronauts on-board, is preparing to reenter the atmosphere, it disappears in a fraction of a second, coinciding with a powerful blinding light.
Though a rational mind would assume the astronauts to be dead, a station halfway across the world picks up a transmission which could potentially be from one of the crew members. Slim as their chances of survival might be, the decision is made to try and bring them back from wherever they might be.
To this end, a classified government project revolving around particle physics is put to use, possibly holding the solution to the enigma. More specifically, a government science investigator, Daniel Rice, and a NASA operations analyst, Marie Kendrick, are tasked with tracking down the missing capsule, marking the beginning of their deep plunge into the realm of quantum physics.
While they might be thinking they’re only trying to save the lives of three people, the discoveries they’re about to make and the advancements they’re going to render possible will have a far-reaching impact across the entire human race.
The Educational Journey through Quantum Space
Novels aren’t all created equal in terms of just how much fiction they actually contain. While there are many which take pleasure in dissociating from our real world as much as possible, focusing primarily on characters and events, there are others which only use fiction to venture where reality hasn’t yet. Quantum Space, in my opinion, very much falls into the second category.
Douglas Phillips is obviously an avid student of particle and quantum physics, holding two degrees in the field, and it very much shows from start to finish. As much as possible, he attempts to keep the story, and especially the less explicable elements, grounded in true science.
Rest assured, there are plenty of detailed explorations of various scientific concepts, and I was quite relieved to see they were all laid out in terms even a layman such as myself could understand and follow. It takes some true skill as both a scientist and an author to depict complex concepts and theories (which have taken decades, if not more to establish) in a familiar and easily-absorbed fashion.
I think this is actually quite an important element when it comes to writing a quality hard science-fiction story. If it isn’t based in real science we, the readers, can actually understand and agree with, it doesn’t stimulate our imagination nearly as much. Rather than simply being another piece of fiction, it becomes the potentially-real extension of our scientific perspective, creating strong real-world ties.
Needless to say, in this type of story primarily focused on scientific theories and their imaginable extrapolations, there is certainly less focus placed on the traditional type of action we all know at this point.
However, I never felt like the detailed and meticulous explorations of quantum and particle physics ever actually hindered the progress of the story. On the contrary, they all visible tie in with the events we’re seeing unfold, making them vital components of the plot and its constant forward movement.
The Insatiable Thrill of Science
With all I’ve said about the novel so far, it might feel like what we would stereotypically imagine a fictional story written by a particle physicist would look like. And to be perfectly frank, going into this I expected the characters, plot and basically everything else to take a distant back-seat to the concepts Phillips was clearly looking to explore.
While there are a few weaker points in the plot, such as the amount of leeway our protagonists are afforded or the speed at which they manage to accomplish their work, personally-speaking, they all fell into the minor details category. The themes and subjects outside the realm of physics sometimes require a small suspension of disbelief, but it’s honestly nowhere near what I was expecting.
Additionally, I do want to mention the presence of some bits of social commentary which, if anything, felt a bit out of place in relation to the rest of the novel. However, if you go into it prepared to overlook the few fiction-related faults, I don’t think they’ll hinder your enjoyment of the book in any capacity.
As a matter of fact, the pace at which the plot begins to move makes it considerably easier to forgive its faults, with Phillips having done a remarkably good job at turning his story of particle and quantum physics into a page-turner. With every development I processed I could hardly wait to see what dark scientific alleys we’d end up exploring next.
I think comparisons between this novel and Andy Weir’s The Martian are more or less inevitable While I certainly won’t be comparing these two books here, I think it’s fair to say Quantum Space accomplishes with particle physics what The Martian did with engineering. Also, if you’ve enjoyed one of them, chances are good you’ll like the other one as well.
The Final Verdict
Quantum Space by Douglas Phillips is a remarkable work of hard science-fiction which, despite its few minor faults, delivers a surprisingly-fast-paced and exciting story driven forward by eloquently-explained and easily-understood concepts and theories from the still-young domain of physics.
If you enjoy meticulously-detailed novels based in real-life science and don’t mind touching on the topics of space travel and particle physics, then I think you will enjoy this book quite a fair bit.
Douglas Phillips is an American author with two science degrees, as well as experience in designing predictive computer models.
As a writer, he is best-known for writing the Quantum series, a series of hard science-fiction novels revolving around the realm of particle physics, and more recently the standalone novel Phenomena.