Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ECCC 2016. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“Matt loved to win. He had definitely won the battle to steer the neurokinetics program towards the commercially viable side. He could only shake his head at Chuck’s wish list of disciplines for initial experimentation. Leave it to the academic to come up with impractical, feel-good choices.”
Chuck Brenton is a cutting edge neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins with ideas that some people would dismiss as science fiction. Along with his assistant Eugene, he has been studying the gamma waves that the human brain produces when it is in a flow state, and working to develop a computer interface that will allow artists, programmers, and architects to manipulate their computer software using only these brain waves. But it isn’t until he partners with Matt Streegman, a mathematician from MIT with a sharp mind for business, that he is able to create the proper interface. Soon they have launched their own lab, Forward Kinetics, and Matt is courting government and military contracts for their unproven technology. But then something strange begins happening with the study subjects; once they have become practiced at sustaining gamma states, some of them begin to produce readings that are off the charts—a whole new brain state that seems capable of bypassing the computer entirely.
The God Wave has been marketed on the classic and often-abused sci-fi trope of the untapped potential of the human brain. However, Patrick Hemstreet works hard to avoid the cliché, spending more than a hundred pages in the first part of the novel carefully laying the scientific groundwork so that the development of a powerful new brain state feels like a natural progression rather than a jump that requires a huge suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader. As the subjects practice focusing and become adept at sustaining the flow state, they are essentially flexing new mental muscles with unknown potential. However, this is a thriller, and once the ground work has been laid, the action can take off.
More central than the well-used premise is the clash of ideals it causes between Chuck and Matt, and the other employees of Forward Kinetics. While Chuck dreams of medical and scientific applications—helping the disabled, making space travel safer—Matt has his eye on financial profitability, and nothing is more secure than a military contract. As they ramp up towards production, the riff deepens around the secrets the two men are keeping from one another. Chuck has continued to work with his artists, even though they don’t fit Matt’s regimented business plan. And unbeknownst to Chuck, Matt has brought in a martial arts expert, Lanfen, to aid the development of combat applications for their technology. But as they get in deeper with the shadowy military organization, Lanfen begins to mistrust the partnership, even as the other early participants start to have doubts about the new recruits they have been tasked with training. However, they struggle to persuade Matt that something suspicious is going on.
The God Wave is the first in a series, and as such leaves off with a cliff-hanger that poses more questions than it answers. Not even Chuck knows the full extent of what might be possible for his protégés, and in an effort to protect them from Matt’s ambitions, he may well have taken them from bad to worse.
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