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Saturday, April 19, 2014

"Long Jump" by Oleg Kazantsev

Appeared in Writers of the Future 30.  Author interview with Hardwick.  

Mix a little virtual reality, cyberspace, funky time travel, and space drama and you get Oleg Kazantsev's tale.  The tale starts toward its end where Ulysses' virtual girlfriend, Nancy, keeps trying to kill herself.  And then backs up years earlier with Phoebe, his (presumably ex-)wife, on Mars near the Nigerian spaceport there.  Ulysses is kidnapped to a facility where he is to be the replacement astronaut to fly through time.  The first, Milos, had gotten stuck in time.  (Presumably they changed things after the first time, or maybe accomplish something different.)

During his time in time, Ulysses does virtual simulations which, starting with his son, rebel against him.  They don't do/say whatever Ulysses wants.  He meets Milos's girlfriend, Nancy, in the process of killing herself on a busy highway.  They meet, and begin to fall in love.  Until one day, climbing a mountain, Ulysses races ahead and Nancy dies.

The individual scenes are well written and conceived.  Kazantsev has a good sense of what it takes to involve his readers with a different world and sweep you into it in terms of plot and character.  The only flaw, which I might not have seen if I hadn't tried to summarize it, is that the scenes don't hang well together.  You grab the theme if possible (why killing self earlier? why wait to kill self again? why help her die?).  Let's call it:  Take control of your life's reality or maybe You can't change reality even if it's virtual--and some parts don't really match.  That early scene--great drama--where the character is abducted, you could shoehorn it in thematically, but not comfortably.  Also, it doesn't fit the characters:  That is, he seems self-convinced, anyway.

That said, one of my favorite novels, Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, uses the opening ten percent of his novel to zip us through a world that really has nothing to do with the rest of the novel.  When Kazantsev has a good sense of what belongs and what doesn't, readers will clamor for his work.

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