Sunday, September 24, 2006

Schrödinger’s Ball by Adam Felber

Warning: crappy first draft ahead

You don’t need a Ph.D. to enjoy Adam Felber’s debut novel, Schrödinger’s Ball, but having some understanding about physics will help to get all the jokes. In particular, it helps to know at least about the famous thought experiment of Dr. Erwin Schrödinger, who was competing with Heisenberg to determine what was going on with electrons. Luckily, Felber adds an unscientific history of the scientific debate (read pissing contest) that occurred between the two prominent physicists. After Heisenberg developed what became known as the Uncertainty Principle, Schrödinger created a cat, who was stuck in a box along with a device that will release radiation if anyone checks to see if the cat is dead. So the cat was both alive and dead – and not alive and not dead. Or something like that.

Schrödinger’s Ball starts with the unobserved death of Johnny Felix Decate (while cleaning a gun); at the same time, the president of Montana (yes, he seceded and set up his own country, which essentially included his own property -- on which he was late paying his U.S. taxes). Soon after, we find Johnny hanging with his gang; he’s our cat. Johnny and his friends Grant, Deb, and Arlene are drinking in Cambridge, Massachusetts (home of Harvard). Aside from Johnny’s ability to exist beyond his death, he and his friends have other talents. He may not be the brightest man in the world, but people will follow him. Deb experiences extended orgasms -- a half-hour is not outrageous for this happy woman. But she has no experience in love. Grant is brilliant but socially inept -- especially around Deb, who he quietly loves. Arlene is capable of much love, but is otherwise a killjoy.

In addition to defying death, Johnny has virtuoso guitar talents that turn him into a sort of messiah of music, with crowds of worshipping teens following him wherever he and his friends go. And Professor Schrödinger populates the streets of Cambridge as well, even though he died in 1961. Or is it Schrödinger? Does he always leave you with the check? And where are those cat meows coming from?

In a sense, the story is surprisingly predictable, in that you soon know that Grant will get the girl of his dreams (Deb). You’re pretty certain that neither Johnny nor Schrödinger are actually alive. But there are enough twists and turns and goofy secondary characters to keep those pages turning. (If no one sees you read, are you actually learning anything?)

This book will appeal to anyone who enjoys a goofy tale. And despite my comment about its predictability, it is also unconventional and its resolutions uncertain. Get your electrons moving and check it out.

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