Tumbling After


Paul Witcover


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 24, 2005

his is a complex story. As I read along, I couldn't decide if I liked or disliked it. Parts are pretty good, other parts not so good. It certainly is not routine science fiction. Tumbling After is two interleaved stories that are only loosely interconnected. One story is of twins Jack and Jill, who share a close bond beyond that of normal siblings. They can sense each other's emotions and almost read each other's thoughts. They are spending the summer on a beach house with their uncle and older sister. Jill dares Jack to enter the ocean as a storm approaches, and a mighty wave picks Jack up and slams him down and drags him out to sea where he drowns. Except that he wakes up the beach. This is the best part of the novel - Witcover does a great job of introducing a "power" that Jack has - he can go back in time and get a "redo" of a situation. Something bad happen? No problem, Jack can alter past events for a more favorable outcome. Jack is the only one who know what the previous course of history was, everyone else in the new timeline only remembers the current state of affairs as the actual history. Unfortunately Jack can not control this power, and he slowly becomes convinces that he is the target of a malign intelligence with similar powers.

The second interwoven story is about Kestrel, a mutant in an alternate timeline. Kestrel is a young winged creature who has just passed his qualifying tests and now is deemed able to join up with his pentad and venture out into the wastelands to battle the norms (normal humans). A pentad is made up of five mutants - one each of a mander (a salamander creature who can control fire), a merm (a mermaid creature who can control water), a delph (a earth mutant who can tunnel and manipulate rock/soil) and a boggle (a mind controlling mutant). Kestrel has the power to control wind and air and lightning. (I was unimpressed with this - one mutant each for air, water, earth, fire and thought? Haven't we done this before? Why such fascination with the four Greek "elements"?) When Kestrel and his pentad battle the norms, their boggle mutant can invirt them - allowing them to enter a virtual reality where they fight avatars of the humans. I was never clear about what invirting accomplished.

Witcover isn't too interested in the outcome of Kestrel's war with the norms, he is more interested in the question of What is Reality? It turns out that there are boggles more powerful than the young one in Kestrel's pentad - a very power boggle from the Faculty Invisible branch of the Holy Rollers (yes, they are called Holy Rollers - why didn't an editor excise this juvenile humor?) named Mizar has asked for Kestrel's help in ferreting out a norm spy from Kestrel's pentad. Witcover likes to play with the sort of questions Philip K Dick was famous for - how do you know what you know, what is reality and what is an artifact of our consciousness? How many levels of invirting can there be?

Witcover is too cute - his title chapters are "Jack and Jill", "Up a Hill", "Broken Crown", "Tumbling After", etc - what is the point of this? The twin stories of the two twins and the story of Kestrel are linked by a game that Jack and Jill play with their Uncle, who is a game designer. Uncle Jim has designed a Dungeons and Dragons rip off called Mutes and Norms - the game play describes Kestrels world, indeed, Jack acts the role of the "Kestrel" character when he and Jill are playtesting their uncles game. I spent most of the book dreading a "revelation" that the reality in Kestrel's world is controlled by Jack and Jill's whim - maybe we are just figments of imagination of some higher power! Ugh. I didn't understand Jack's conviction that some higher power is intent on doing him harm. Where does this paranoia come from, and why does it develop so rapidly? The ending of the book is a mess. Who is the Chronos character? What the heck is going on? I give this book three stars because Witcover does introduce Jack's power so nicely, and he imagines a fine world for Kestrel though he doesn't explore it. Like I said at the start, some of this is good reading, some not so good. But it is different!