Dran Florrian has a problem; he’s too good at his job. Dran has dedicated his career to the construction of the Palimpsest, a device that is endlessly versatile, endlessly dangerous and now, at last, complete.
But now, Dran has had an Oppenheimer moment. His weapon, if unleashed, will cause havoc on a scale that no one can conceive and no one can stop. So, Dran is making a run for it on the TransContinental Airship. The bad news is, Dran’s been followed. The good news is he has very, very odd backup…
There’s a razor thin line a lot of SF walks between hand waving away a parade of scientific implausibility and demanding you do algebra. It’s not a problem limited to hard sf either and it’s one that sometimes feels impossible to solve. Go too far one way and you’re not taking it seriously. Go too far the other and you’re killing the fun.
Patchwerk sits exactly on that line. It’s an intensely clever, fast paced piece of science under fire. In 135 pages David sets his world up, explores his idea and brings it into land in a way that’s both satisfying and absolutely leaves the door open for other stories in this world.
That also makes the book charmingly difficult to talk about. This is science fiction as magic trick, David shifting the shape and scope of the story with consummate ease from page to page and chapter to chapter. The core is always the same; a scientist making a run for it. A rogue group wanting the horrific weapon they’ve created but the genre and approach changes constantly. It would be very easy for this to be done with the sort of showy technical prowess that it seems to require. It’s far harder to do it with narrative honesty and that’s exactly what David pulls off here. You’re never lost, you’re never in any doubt what’s going on but you’re also never quite safe. It’s science fiction as fairground ride and it’s brilliantly done.
It’s also one of the most interesting approaches to world building I’ve seen in a long time. Like a lot of his Tor contemporaries, David trusts his audience and starts in the middle. The book hits the ground if not running then certainly checking its watch and making sure it knows where the exits are and that pacing pays off constantly. By the end of the story you know exactly what you need to know, there’s closure and a sense of the larger world. You could comfortably return here but there’s no sense of unfinished business. Rather, a larger world that Dran and you both get a glimpse of.
It, and the rest of the novella, is a quietly impressive piece of precision tooled fiction. Clever, pacy and hiding lots of surprises up its sleeves, this is another strong entry in the Tor line and another excellent story from an always impressive author.