Review: Multiverse, by Robert Mercer Nairne
You know that thing where white men hit age 35 and are suddenly history buffs? This book is what would happen if a couple of them started a Reddit thread in 2019 and then published it as a novel in an election year.
Multiverse claims to be set in the near-future when America is in a depression, political parties are at life-threatening odds, and the validity of science is in question. It was published in June 2020. Now read that sentence again.
String theory is heavily referenced in the novel - I'll get to how that happens later - and I will say this: If the author's intent was not to warn America but to suggest that we are living in a world parallel to this one as a result of some minute change, and if everything in it is meant to be farce, then I applaud you for the attempt and I regret that the writing does not meet the standard needed to portray the events with that tone, because that I might have enjoyed. Instead, we have a thinly-veiled attempt to warn the United States that it is careening towards calamity. The only thing that could have made this novel more spot-on would have been to publish it in 2016.
There's a plot, but boy is it bogged down with descriptions. So many descriptions. So many pages of descriptions. Pages and pages of histories that the characters don't know and which have no bearing on their actions. It was like reading John Steinbeck or John Jakes but without any point, style, or character development. If this had managed to get published seventy years ago, some critic somewhere might have called it naturalistic if they could get through the whole thing, but I don't think it merits the claim that any style or tone was purposely employed. The dialogue is about as constipated and unnuanced as you can get.
There's an obvious surrogate for the forty-fifth president, running for that very office and suggesting that the poor, displaced by yet another collapse of the housing bubble, be taken to camps in the middle of the desert. He's from the Nationalist party which... there's a lot there that goes without saying, I think.
A second party, the Rationalists, seem to consist of the eager and mostly-earnest incumbent president, and scientists - physicists to be specific. I can guarantee that I have never, in all my 36 years, had more than three conversations about modern physicists, but based on this book it seems like everyone knows many physicists by name and knows what they do, has opinions about them, and that they're part of the scientific arrogance elite. Did you notice how annoying it was just there to read the word physicists over and over? That's what the book is like!
The third party is the one that seems to have the most sympathy from the author - the Moralists. There's a lot of explanation in the book about why the Moralists are morally superior to the Rationalists (they have a billionaire on their side, of course they're superior!), and why they're at odds with the Nationalists. But frankly, living here in 2021, I think we can all agree that anyone touting their own morality is very often a Nationalist. I'll digress here.
I cannot express how unimportant and uninteresting the characters are to this story. There's a congressman who drops dead - not important. There's a congressman who gets shot - not important. There's an astrophysicist on her way to Hawaii - not important. There's a billionaire who goes to see an opera - not important, but please enjoy three whole pages describing the plot of that opera.
I'll leave you with one more thing: this was published in June 2020. In the second-to-last chapter of the book things come to a head at a riot. A riot that is eerily similar to the attack on the Capitol in January of this year. I'm not a conspiracy theorist and I'm certainly not suggesting that the author was involved in any way. But the author certainly did a lot of research in his efforts to write this book. So what I'm saying is the evidence must have been there (on Reddit or wherever he got his material). So if this had been a farce about string theory, perhaps it wouldn't have been too wide of the mark.
Multiverse is available now.