The Unforgiving Minute – Paul Caselle

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Blurb:  Professor Edward Vivian Phillips, head of Physics at Trinity College, Cambridge has just invented the unthinkable! But celebrations are cut short when he is arrested for the murder of his research fellow, Alan Newton.

Phillips claims he didn’t do it. That he couldn’t have done it.

Professor Phillips was using his new invention at the time of Newton’s murder. However, his claim means that he is either innocent or a madman!

…or is this the cause of the ‘Mandela Effect’?

 

This book is subtitled ‘Quantum Physics can be Murder’, and the full title is very apt and cleverly applied.  Here we have sci-fi directly related to the time-related aspect (time travel, of course), physics in the form of hypotheses and theories on time travel and alternate realities (or Trouser legs of Time if you happen to be a Pratchett fan) and a murder mystery of the locked-room variety, except instead of a locked room it’s dimensional anomalies and disruption to the space-time continuum.

The scientific language is fairly technical, so I suspect you’d get more out of this novella if you have a working knowledge of some of the concepts explored.  As a layperson I spotted references to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and a pretty obvious nod to Schrodinger’s cat.  There is a recurring plot element, discussed outright by the characters in the opening pages, of thought experiments being made physical realities.

I was quite shocked and taken aback at just how reckless the Professor was in turning his research into reality, with no real testing before the big event, and then to continue even when there were obviously some very tangible side effects…more the behaviour of a homicidal maniac than a scholarly phycisist.  But then, just as the book is a mix of mystery and sci-fi, why should the main character not exemplify the characteristics of both genres too?

A deeper physics understanding may be preferable, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the book’s other central element which is a classic ‘we know who did it, but how did it happen’ type of murder mystery.  There are a couple of twists along the way, and even if you skate over the science this is still an entertaining read just for the neat plot premise.

Finally, readers may recognise the quote in the title as being from Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’.  This not only relates to the time travel aspects mentioned, and the missing time, but also to the uncertainty of the character’s actions and the outcomes thereof:  ‘If‘.  Forgiveness, or ‘unforgiving’ also plays a large role in the uncertainty-ridden denuoument to the tale.

This is an exceedingly clever story, with some abruptly violent incidents (to be expected really, as it is after all a ‘murder’ sci-fi) and provides great, short entertainment and some big ideas to ponder.

“If we can make this work, we will have done more than anyone before us.  An infinity of multiverses will no longer be identical.”

“… and they can never be rejoined; they will be totally different forever.”  Alan paused and swallowed hard.  “We are messing with the fabric of space and time.  We have no way of knowing what damage we may be doing.”

– Paul Casselle, The Unforgiving Minute

 You can read more about Paul Casselle and his work at his website here, or contact him on Facebook and/or Twitter.

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