Four-Star Review of Seven Point Eight, The First Chronicle, by Marie Harbon.
This is a complex novel written in concept like a television series. I gave it high marks for imagination, which is the real reason we read Sci-Fi, but did have some difficulty following the story, as detailed below. Please note: in order to tie up “loose ends” I found in the story, I made assumptions that unknowns would be revealed in future chronicles. Those assumptions might or might not be true.
When I completed Seven Point Eight, The First Chronicle, I was driven to ask, “What did I just read?” The novel did not reach a conclusion, and everything in the storyline seemed unsettled—it seemed incomplete. That was frustrating, so I started over with the objective of outlining events in chronological order. That helped, because scattered throughout the book are six excerpts from another story that occur in another place and at another time. Once I time-ordered my outline notes, I could see the first of the six excerpts takes place twenty-one years after the book concludes, but the first excerpt appears almost at the beginning of the book. The remaining five “other-place/other-time” excerpts appear in random chapters throughout the book. People who pay more attention than I do might not need to make an outline, but I did. Chalk that up to a weak mind. Anyway, when I understood the structure of the book, then I had to ask myself, “Why did the author do that?”
Here’s my guess. The story is about multi-dimensional time and space, and one hypothesis offered in the book is, “The future exists simultaneously with the past, and simultaneously with the present. All is one. The difference between past, present and future is an illusion.” A being from another dimension also asserts, “Time is a construction of human artifice…to prevent everything from happening at once.” Therefore, the structure of the book could be one attempt to demonstrate a hypothesis of the book. Because the six excerpts do not tell an independent story, they could be from the next novel in the series, Seven Point Eight, The Second Chronicle, due out in the summer of 2012.
But it wasn’t just the six excerpts that confused me. From the beginning there are events that beg for answers, like a woman wearing an exquisite red silk scarf who spontaneously offers information about the U.S. military’s secret “Philadelphia Experiment” during one of Dr. Paul Eldridge’s unclassified lectures, and then the woman simply vanishes. Paul’s own diary (which he starts writing near the beginning of the novel) clearly states “the mysterious woman never re-appeared”, but the scarf certainly does. On New Year’s Eve, 1967, Paul purchases the scarf and gives it to the heroine, Tahra. Later, the scarf re-appears, as if by magic, in Ava’s handbag in Oct 1988. Ava is a character in one of the six excerpts mentioned above. How the scarf gets from place to place and time to time, assuming it is the same scarf, is not revealed.
So let me try to summarize this complex story before I try to tie Ava, who ends up with the scarf, and The First Chronicle together.
Dr. Paul Eldridge is a particle physicist who accepts the task of trying to quantify the human soul in quantum terms. He works with “gifted” individuals who have exceptional abilities to “remote view” (take their consciousness to other places, an out-of-body experience), see the future in some form, sense emotions and the like. Measuring the electromagnetic field associated with the most talented member of the group, Tahra, the heroine, Dr. Paul determines consciousness leaves her body for remote viewing at 7.8 Hertz. Dr. Paul wants to use Tahra for remote space exploration, and eventually builds a machine to amplify Tahra’s ability to view things remotely. That’s when the fun begins, although unanswered questions abound. Tahra and Paul both have vivid dreams that impart information to them. In fact, some of the “dreams” might actually be physical instantiations from the future, but that is not explained. In all cases of receiving forward-looking information, Tahra and Paul chalk it up to dreams. Most of the time the characters accept their revelations, but not when Tahra gives Paul a stern warning in what seems to be a clear case of physical appearance from the future – “Don’t go beyond 65% power on the machine.” Paul ignores that warning, to his dismay.
Near the end of the book, Tahra takes a dozen people with her to go “star hopping” to new and untested dimensions, and Paul boosts the machine’s power to 75% to accommodate all the people. It’s a bad trip. Only Tahra returns normal, and that brings us to the six excerpts.
The twelve “passengers” end up in a sanitarium. One of the twelve is Maria Martinez, the sister of Ava Kavanagh. Ava finds the red scarf in her purse in Oct 1988 after a visit to the institution where Maria remains in a vegetative state. Ava has been dating a man named Michael, who disappeared mysteriously, but, as a later excerpt shows, Michael was likely a “plant” to spy on Ava. An attempt on Ava’s life is also detailed, by injection of Ebola virus into her neck. Ava survives due to incredible natural immunity, but who Michael works for and the reasons for the attack on Ava are not revealed. All we are told is an undefined group is studying an electromagnetic anomaly on Long Island, where one of the sites associated with Tahra’s remote viewing research is located. Answers to these questions might be provided in the next book.
I give Seven Point Eight, The First Chronicle, a four-star rating for its interesting story, imaginative descriptions of multi-dimensional space and clever way of switching back and forth between third person limited Point of View (POV) and first person POV. I was never confused by the change in POV, but I would caution that the book is British and so is the spelling. I adjusted to the lack of “zeds”, but not to the dozens of comma splices, run-on sentences and unusual use of semicolons. I put those distractions aside and plowed through the story to see what happened; however, I must read The Second Chronicle to know for sure.