Web reviews of Singularity:
Yet Another Book Review Site
Epic Science Fiction and Fantasy
Hour 25 Online
Barnes & Noble Explorations
The Coffee Cramp Reviews
Midwest Book Review
Science Fiction and Fantasy [mini-reviews]
Singularity stands out because of its highly original premise. Bill DeSmedt takes an actual moment in history, the Tunguska Event of 1908, and constructs an exciting, fast-paced novel around it. The event occurred when an unknown force flattened a huge area of trees and vegetation in the desolate region of Siberia.
Mr. DeSmedt postulates that the force was a submicroscopic black hole that plunged to Earth. Such an event would be fantastical enough, but what if the black hole were still burrowing through the Earth, poised to break through the mantle, and locking into an orbit that has the potential to consume the entire planet? That’s the scenario that faces the characters in Singularity. Jack Adler, a maverick astrophysicist, joins forces with Marianna Bonaventure, a rookie secret agent, to unearth a nefarious scheme to capture the black hole and use it to transform the world.
This book rocks with great, plausible science and an exciting plot filled with chases, spy action and the big, evil specter of Rusalka, funded by billionaire Arkady Grishin. Those who like their science fiction novels laced with healthy dollops of action and hard science will love Mr. DeSmedt’s first novel. — Steve Powers
Random Vectors [mini-reviews]
Bill DeSmedt has a stylish technothriller, Singularity (Per Aspera, 502 pages, $25.95) — the publisher's first hardcover and the author's first novel, not that it seems so. The SF portion starts off with the Tunguska Event, the 1908 phenomenon in Siberia that made a big noise and flattened a lot of trees, radially. Something ... strange ... happened. DeSmedt makes a case for a primordial black hole, which is still orbiting inside the Earth. Verifying the conjecture is an early part of the story. What a villain could do with such a thing, and why, is the thriller part. — Jim Hopper
Frontiers of the mind [mini-reviews]
For his first effort, Bill DeSmedt chose as his topic the Tunguska event of 1908, when a meteorite was believed to have smashed into the Siberian wilderness, leveling trees for miles. DeSmedt has his own explanation: a submicroscopic black hole.
That black hole is the central object around which Singularity (499 pages; Per Aspera; $25.95) revolves.
Jack Adler is the astrophysicist who has theorized the presence of the black hole, and he believes itıs still there, doing its thing devouring the Earth. He educates the thrown-together duo of Jonathon Knox and Marianna Bonaventure, who has convinced analyst Knox to join her on a se-cret mission for the U.S. government. For her part, Bonaventure is a determined gun-wielding character whoıs very attractive. Casting wouldnıt be a stretch in case a studio wants to option the rights for a movie think Angelina Jolie or Jennifer Anniston.
The dialogue would be another matter; itıs very scientific. But De-Smedt has managed a neat trick: Conversations are lively even though theyıre peppered with accurate physicistıs jargon. The thriller aspect of the book helps.
Like excited electrons, the action moves along with increasing momentum. Bonaventure needs to get close to Russian industrialist Arkady Grishin to uncover his involvement with weapons of mass destruction. The only problem is he lives aboard an enormous yacht that is home to his cor-poration and labs. She and Knox had better keep up appearances or the power of a fallen star could prove too dangerous for anyone to possess. — Robert Folsom
“Singularity”: The nerd gets the secret agent in taut science-fiction thriller
A wild yet theoretically possible thriller involving ex-KGB agents, maverick cosmologists and a microscopically small black hole, “Singularity” is Bill DeSmedt’s first novel. It’s also Seattle publisher Per Aspera’s first book. By basing their infant reputation on the debut of this unknown Pennsylvania author, this new local press has made a big gamble — perhaps a smart one. DeSmedt’s clear descriptions of everything from the core of a typical star to the sinister device an assassin uses to mimic a wolf’s bite make it easy to follow his swiftly swooping story line.
“Singularity” begins with a vivid, almost cinematic reconstruction of the Tunguska Event. In 1908 a mysterious explosion devastated acres of remote Siberian tundra. Its impact registered on scientific equipment as far away as Germany, and sunshine reflecting off the resultant high-altitude debris illuminated London’s night skies so brightly it was possible to read a newspaper by their light.
Speculation as to the cause of this real-life occurrence has ranged over the years from a meteorite to a crashing UFO. Basing his plot on the hypothesis that the Tunguska Event marked the Earth’s collision with a miniature black hole, DeSmedt doesn’t stop with merely making that unlikely-seeming idea plausible. He goes on to ask what its implications might be.
The novel’s main action takes place during the present day. An athletic young woman working for a top-secret U.S. government agency charged with watching over the intellectual fallout from the Soviet breakup, Marianna Bonaventure is hot on the trail of a Russian scientist with the potential to create weapons of mass destruction.
The scientist has apparently slipped away from Russian authorities. On the high-rise rooftop where she’s sure she has her quarry trapped, Marianna runs afoul of a mercenary killer who dumps her down an elevator shaft and flies off with the scientist in an ultralight airplane. With McGyver-like intrepidity, Marianna rescues herself, then uses all her wiles (feminine and otherwise) to persuade the novel’s male protagonist to join the hunt.
A reserved, nerdish systems analyst, Jonathan Knox’s intuitive approach to problem-solving provides a perfect counterpoint for Marianna’s James-Bondian exploits. At first she’s attracted to him for purely pragmatic reasons: During his days as a Russian exchange student, Jon became acquainted with both the scientist Marianna seeks and a man who works on the yacht where the ultralight landed. Later, of course, more carnal concerns bring the two even closer.
DeSmedt’s depiction of Marianna is more action hero than action figure. She feels lust, remorse and ambition; she’s resigned to intimidating most men she meets and defiantly aware of the ways her body comes up short when measured against their ideals. Still, Jon’s point of view is one the author finds more familiar (like his creation, DeSmedt has lived in Russia and reads science books for fun). So there’s an extra depth of intimacy to his writing, as when after a night of passion, Jon watches Marianna perform her morning exercises, which he sees as a sort of erotic ballet. “A man could get used to this,” he thinks — then quickly changes his mind as she segues into “a lethal-looking kickboxing sequence.”
A third major character, colorful, cowboy-hat-sporting cosmologist Jack Adler, has his share of adventures at the Tunguska site, but his main function seems to be to explain to Jon and Marianna just exactly what former KGB agents and other enemies of glasnost would want to do with a captive black hole. Which, contrary to the hopes of the wayward scientist, turns out not to be providing the world with clean, dependable, nearly free energy. Their plans are decidedly sinister, as “Singularity’s” plot orbits ever tighter, ever faster around the conclusion at its core. — Nisi Shawl
Black hole hitting Earth grabs readers of thriller
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt (Per Aspera Press, $25.95) is a slam-bang first novel where the science is as important as the fiction.
Remember hearing about the strange explosion in Tunguska, Siberia, back in the beginning of the last century? The standard explanation is that it was caused by a small comet blowing up in the atmosphere, but more esoteric suggestions, including the notion that the event was caused by a catastrophic engine failure in an alien space ship, are extraordinarily popular. Singularity is built around the idea that the explosion was caused by a tiny black hole smacking into the Earth.
Microscopic black holes, smaller than an atom but with masses of millions of tons, might have been created when the universe was formed. If the orbits and energies were just right, a black hole could have been captured by Earth's gravity. If so, it would still be there, circling around in the interior of our planet and ever so slowly eating it away.
Singularity takes this bizarre possibility, adds a cast of exotic characters, whips in a blitzkrieg plot and bakes it all into a hugely entertaining near-future thriller. James Bond would have loved to star in a story such as this. — John R. Alden
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt
DeSmedt’s debut SF thriller, a brisk Michael Crichton clone, vividly depicts the Tunguska event that leveled a big patch of Siberia in 1908, then shifts to the near-future, where warrior woman Marianna Bonaventure is working for CROM (Critical Resources Oversight Mandate), the U.S. Department of Energy’s branch for dealing with loose WMD talent. Meanwhile, in Siberia, scientist Jack Adler discovers that Tunguska was actually hit by a microscopic black hole, not a meteorite. Marianna and an intuitive analyst, Jonathan Knox, are assigned to infiltrate the gigantic yacht Rusalka, owned by the Russian billionaire Arkady Grishin, who is on the trail of something odd. It turns out that Grishin is not who he seems and his motives for finding the Tunguska object are a great deal more sinister than anyone had supposed.
The book bounces along, from well-developed scenes to lesser ones and back again, with a good deal of deft if not particularly original characterization. The sexual chemistry between Marianna and Jonathan adds spice. Exotic hardware, lifestyles of the rich and notorious, double- and triple-crosses and a slightly rushed and facile conclusion all make a respectable if not outstanding first effort.
Book Review: Singularity by Bill DeSmedt
Published by Per Aspera Press in the US and UK
Hardcover 502 pages
Retail price: $25.95
Review by Carlos Aranaga copyright [March] 2005
The Tunguska Event, that unexplained explosion that flattened a forest half the size of Rhode Island in the remotest wilds of Siberia in 1908, is the beast at the heart of this singularly action-packed thriller by first-time novelist Bill DeSmedt. What the heck was it that caused an aerial explosion rated at 15 megatons, blew out windows and knocked over people 400 miles away, yet left no crater? Almost a century of head scratching science boils down to “Your guess is as good as mine.”
DeSmedt puts his money on the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis, that is, the view — until now roundly dismissed — that Tunguska was no less than the Earth being skewered by a tiny black hole. Occam’s Razor-wielding empiricists say, “Where’s the exit wound?” Well, what if the thing was captured by Earth’s gravity and lodged in a gradually deteriorating orbit inside the Earth’s mantle? This thoroughly discomfiting conjecture is Singularity’s hook, and as we learn in the introduction to the novel and in the extensive postlude guide to further reading, it is an idea that has been something of an obsession of Bill DeSmedt’s for many years.
Homeland Security is on the case, as Russian oligarch Arkady Grishin vacuums up gainfully unemployed physicists in a shadowy project that smells of proliferation threat. The Energy boys think loose nukes, and agent Marianna Bonaventure — the formula beautiful rookie investigator with the hottest leads — runs afoul of Grishin’s Georgian (that’s Tbilisi) hired goon. Certifiable sadist Yuri is badder than old King Kong, and bears the lion’s share of the fear factor through the rest of the novel.
Enter Jonathan Knox, a consultant with a gift for intuition and pattern discernment dating back to an unfortunate experience smoking some hazy cosmic jive from Siberia as an exchange student in Russia and experiencing a split second in eternity, becoming one with everything.
Knox, whom the Russians unrelentingly call Dzhonathan, is a stand-in for DeSmedt (who we understand was a budding Sovietologist when the USSR was pulled out from under him by the fall of the Iron Curtain), and who went on to become a knowledge engineer, consulting for Fortune 500 companies and becoming a black hole aficionado in his spare time.
Perhaps the most interesting character is one we lamentably see less of, that is, the too-trusting gringo cosmologist Jack Adler who very nearly gets knocked off while chasing down the black hole hypothesis in the woods at summer research camp in Siberia (Yuri gets around).
Adler is based on a real-life scientist. Google “Who is Doctor Jack Adler” and you’ll get an eye-opening data dump on Vurdulak, which is what the mini-black hole is called in the book, and in Siberian means “werewolf”. The fictional Adler meets an ancient Tunguskan shaman, present at the blast that he sees as the smiting of Earth by the gods.
Too soon we leave Doctor Jack, and for 130 pages we go on a cruise with Knox and Marianna, who insinuate themselves onto Grishin’s research yacht, thanks to Dzhon’s pals Sasha and Galya, who are among the scientists doing secret research onboard, conveniently enough. Grishin is flamboyant and sinister enough to call to mind James Mason as Captain Nemo. Despite the tension of not blowing their cover and avoiding assassination by Yuri, this part went rather slowly. I was starting to wonder if they’d run into the Sargasso Sea.
Another interesting character is Mycroft, Knox’s hacker buddy with a Blue Ridge mountaintop redoubt. Unfortunately a bad DSL connection and a hostile enemy commando raid put him in the narrative sidelines.
By the time Jack Adler reappears the plot is snowballing in complexity. Grishin turns out to be more than just a rapacious oil executive, and pretty soon he is playing hacky sack with the quantum singularity and the fate of the world. Here it gets a bit over the top as a doddering shadow-Politburo troops in and Knox and Marianna are treated to a classic ringside seat as the evil villain unfolds his plot to rule the world.
There’s a sequel in the works, Dualism, and truth be told, I’ll look for it when it comes out. If you like either action thrillers or conjectures on cosmology, quantum physics, and the metaphysics of consciousness and perception, then you’re likely to enjoy Singularity. A nice pot of gold at the end of the book is the addendum in which DeSmedt walks us through worthwhile further reading on Tunguska and black holes.
In short, this is a competent and ambitious first novel. Do check it out.
Bill DeSmedt should be on the bestseller lists with Tom Clancy and Dan Brown. DeSmedt’s ambitious and exciting debut novel, Singularity, mixes a post-Cold-War conspiracy with cutting-edge quantum physics and a century-old mystery to create a terrifying techno-thriller.
A secret US government agency, CROM, fights terrorism by apprehending or terminating post-Soviet scientists before they sell the technology of mass destruction to terrorists. A rookie CROM agent, Marianna Bonaventure, and a brilliant consultant, Jonathan Knox, find themselves on an undercover mission to locate a missing Russian physicist. Instead, they discover a secret far scarier than terrorists with nuclear weapons.
The famous “meteor” that devastated Siberia’s Tunguska wasteland in 1908 was no meteor. It was a microscopic black hole that entered the earth’s crust — and never exited. Trapped, it may eventually devour the earth. But a small, clandestine group has developed secret technology to capture the black hole. If the conspirators succeed, the world will be enslaved by a dictatorship made omnipotent by the black hole’s quantum effects. If the conspirators fail, they will accelerate the black hole’s destructiveness — and guarantee the earth’s immediate annihilation. Bonaventure and Knox rush to stop the conspirators — but they may already be too late. — Cynthia Ward
Per Aspera books 2004
Posted Friday, January 14 2005 by Chaz
I vaguely remember hearing about the Tunguska event and although I can’t even remember where I came across it, I was intrigued. Bill DeSmedt, the author of Singularity remembers vividly, he was watching an episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos dealing with meteor and cometary impacts when “Tunguska” was brought up.
You may have heard of the incident in question; although it happened in 1908, it is still speculated about to this day. The unexplained impact/explosion devastated an area of Siberian Tundra half the size of Rhode Island, the impact registered on scientific equipment as far away as Germany and resultant debris caused bizarre atmospheric phenomena across the entire hemisphere. The reason for all of the conjecture — and yes even an exploding alien craft has been put forward — is that they have been unable to conclusively explain exactly what happened, if it was a comet or asteroid, what caused it to explode in the atmosphere, and why then can they still not find any debris? Sagan next introduced the Jackson/Ryan hypothesis, that the event was a collision between the earth and an atom-sized black hole, but then went on to refute the theory raising the standard missing exit-event objection — if it was a black hole, why didn’t it slice a hole clean through the planet, erupting out of the North Atlantic, causing another event of its own? —
Chances are I saw the same episode of Cosmos that Bill DeSmedt did, but whereas I cocked my head to the side and filed the curiosity away with a hmmmm, our author sat there thunderstruck and asked — But Carl, what if the damn thing never came out? A microscopic black hole formed at the birth of the universe, smaller than an atom but with incredible mass. If the orbits and energies were just right, this black hole could have been captured by Earth’s gravity. If so, it would still be in there, circling around in the interior of the earth and ever so slowly eating it away. And thus a novelist was born — necessity, as they say, is the mother of contention.
Introduce Jonathan Knox a systems analyst whose intuitive and almost psychic ability to perceive patterns and find solutions, places him in high demand in the corporate world. Marianna a beautiful and athletic agent charged with tracking scientific resources (former Soviet brains whose knowledge is potentially dangerous to the free world). Marianna is on the trail of a former University acquaintance of Jonathan’s, and he finds himself coerced overnight into an elaborate undercover mission aboard the luxurious yacht Rusalka, headquarters of billionaire Russian industrialist Arkady Grishin. Jack Adler has his hands full in the Siberian bush trying to provide empirical evidence to support the Jackson/Ryan black hole hypothesis of the Tunguska event. Little does he know that there are those who already have that proof and will stop at nothing to prevent him from releasing it to the world until their own plans to subvert the black hole are a fait acompli. Hot on the scent of the mysterious scheme Jonathan and Mariana begin to realize what is actually going on, but the full extent of the scheme and its potential consequences to the planet are beyond even their worst scenarios.
This is an absolute cracker of a first novel for Bill DeSmedt, and although he is severely stretching the boundaries of scientific plausibility by the end, his premise is so ingenious and the foundation in actual physics so convincing, that I am delighted to go along for the ride. I have been craving a capital S Science Fiction novel that wasn’t just wild conjecture, or indecipherable science jargon for some time and this is a welcome new arrival. His characters, although nothing new to the thriller genre, are likable and the whole thing jumps from one locale and revelation to another in a reckless but still very engaging way. Just when you think you’ve figured out where it is all going, he throws in another twist and manages to surprise me yet again towards the end. I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
A fantastical science fiction thriller, I thoroughly enjoyed it
Review — Singularity — by Bill DeSmedt
Posted Wednesday, December 29 2004 by Debbie Ledesma
What crashed into the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908? Some say it was a comet. Others claim it was an asteroid. Maybe it was a tiny black hole, which never came out the other side of the Earth. This is the premise of the science fiction thriller Singularity by Bill DeSmedt. The book is a fast paced, entertaining story due to interesting characters, an action plot and intriguing premise.
The book’s interesting characters keeps the reader hooked. Three main characters are brought together by circumstances. Jonathan Knox is a highly paid systems analyst. He spent part of his early life in Russia where he had an experience that changed his life. This change provides fascinating elements to the story and makes him a tortured soul. Marianna Bonaventure is an agent working to stop weapons of mass destruction proliferation by tracking scientists in those fields. She is young, inexperienced and on her first field assignment. Her tragic past makes her very human as she tries to complete her mission with competence. The third character is astrophysicist Jack Adler. He must overcome ridicule from colleagues in his search to help the others. They are thwarted in their attempts by assorted Russian characters bent on achieving various nefarious goals, which powers the plot.
Next, the book has an action plot that is fast paced to make the book hard to put down. Set in the near future of our century, the story begins with Jonathan wondering who is illegally using his E-mail. This brings him into contact with Marianna. After he escapes an attempted kidnapping by Russian agents thanks to her help, he finds himself pulled into a covert operation on a large ship owned by a Russian CEO. This leads to trouble as they try to discover what is going on in the middle of the Atlantic. At the same time, Jack is in the wilds of Siberia to prove his theory. While there, someone attempts to kill him and he does not know why. Mr. DeSmedt writes a tight knit plot that has events following on each other smoothly for a fast read.
Finally, the intriguing premise of a microscopic black hole trapped inside the Earth drives the whole book. The author uses the Tunguska event of 1908 as the premise for the book. He uses the hypothesis of a black hole hitting the Earth at that time and not exiting. It has been orbiting inside the planet ever since. A Russian CEO plans to trap the black hole for his own purpose. If the black hole is allowed to fall into the center of the world, it will destroy the Earth in a short time. The author’s clever weaving of the premise into a coherent plot makes the book an entertaining read with a lot of action.
To conclude, Singularity by Bill DeSmedt is a good near future science fiction novel. The books interesting characters, action plot and intriguing premise makes the book a fast paced, entertaining read. The book also has some romance that helps make the characters human. I found it an exciting and hard to put down book. Readers will enjoy this excellent book.
On Sunday — December 12th, 2004 — our guest on Hour 25 will be Bill DeSmedt chatting with us about his novel Singularity, a crackling good yarn that combines the intellectual pleasure of hard SF with the excitement of a cutting edge techno-thriller.In 1908 an explosion as large as the detonation of an atomic bomb occurred in Tunguska, Russia. It hurled a cloud of dust so high into the atmosphere that the sunlight reflected from it made it possible to read a newspaper in London at midnight. Was the Earth struck by a comet or large meteor? Or was it something else?
Bill DeSmedt has taken that catastrophic event from 1908 and used it as the background for a very exciting story involving international intrigue on the grandest of scales. For in Singularity the Tunguska event was caused by the collision between the Earth and a microscopic Black Hole. But rather than passing through the Earth, it became trapped inside the Earth and is now orbiting within the Earth just a few miles below our feet. And while potential disaster skims just below the Earth’s surface, Russian oligarchs, technocrats and former KGB officers hatch a plot that could change the history of the world.
Singularity starts off at a nicely measured, if not deliberate pace. And then as you turn the pages the pace keeps getting increased, until you reach the final chapters where it races at a break-neck pace. Once you are drawn into the world of this book you won’t want to put it down. Don’t start this book on a lazy Sunday afternoon, or you’ll be dragging yourself sleeplessly into work on Monday morning. Start it on a Friday so you’ve got the weekend to savor it. Enjoy!
Most highly recommended.
Click here to listen to Warren James’ hour-long interview with Bill DeSmedt.
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt
In the Tunguska region of Siberia, in 1908, the sky was ripped open by a blue light, and something hit the earth hard, flattening trees and causing fierce winds and unbearable heat ... but not creating a crater. This is true, as is this: even though a hundred years has passed, no one knows what happened.
In the book, many theories as to what happened have been played with, but Jack Adler believes it to be a PBH — a primordial black hole. This PBH is living under the crust of our world, burrowing its way to the core, where it will destroy the world. At first, our two other main characters, Marianna Bonaventure and Jon Knox, don’t know about this ... but their paths will soon lead to it. Marianna is a spy for CROM, a organization concerned with weapons of mass destruction. Three scientists suspected of creating these weapons have gone missing, and she has good reason to believe that they’re on the Rusalka, a Russian ship that is the headquarters of Grishin Enterprises International, and home to it’s founder, Arkady Grishin. Knox went to school with two of the missing scientists. Marianna, having lost her one chance to stop the extraction of one of these scientists, knows her last chance is to exploit the connection between them and Jon. He reluctantly agrees, and eventually they discover what GEI is up to ... they want to recover the PBH for themselves, and are willing be very cold-hearted in their pursuit ... their main weapon is Yuri, an assassin who looks like a patch of night, whose ways of getting the job done are as innovative as they are nasty and calculated.
Because the main plot idea is true, the science ... and there is a lot of it, to support the theory of the PBH ... has to be true, too. Or at least feel that way. DeSmedt does a fabulous job of feeding the reader complex scientific realities while making it easy for us to understand. It never interrupts the flow of the story, and makes it more exciting. The whole idea of the PBH and that it could eventually destroy the earth is an eerie one, but those are the only possibilities inherent in the black hole, he explores others, and in one memorable scene, gives us the reason for the title.
We don’t follow just follow Marianna and Jon in the story, we also visit with Jack Adler, who is next on Yuri’s list. Going back and forth between these two groups, we get to experience many things ... there’s espionage, near misses, visits with a shaman who saw the event, and who has predicted that Adler will be the one to destroy it, and plenty of action. The Rusalka, a gigantic ship with all sorts of advanced technology, was particularly interesting, as are the bases that GEI has set up to help in the recovery.
I also enjoyed the characterization. Everyone is clearly drawn ... you can’t help but like a woman who, in the first few moments of meeting her, saves her life with quick thinking. Shooting her Squirt gun (a handheld canon that shoots a sticky, web-like material) at the side of the elevator, she manages to keep herself from falling several stories to her death ... but she’s stuck, hanging there, until help arrives. Quick thinking and sometimes bad luck are endearing combinations. I also truly liked Mycroft, the hermit-like researcher who can find out about anything you need, who uses holograms and state of the art technology to keep himself locked away.
Singularity takes a true event and creates an extraordinary adventure.
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt
In 1908, a mysterious event occurred in Siberia which leveled 60 million trees in the forests of the Stony Tunguska Basin. The explosion was so loud and so bright that people one thousand miles away could read a newspaper at night without candlelight. To date, no one has conclusively solved the mystery of what happened at Tunguska that day. Theories of the cause of the blast include a comet, an asteroid, aliens, and a submicroscopic black hole. The leading theory (an asteroid impact) seems unlikely, because there is no impact crater at Tunguska. Debut author Bill DeSmedt takes this puzzling event and uses it as the basis of an exhilarating SF thriller that will resonate with readers of Michael Crichton, Greg Bear and Dan Brown.
American astrophysicist Jack Adler has new evidence that proves the 1973 Jackson-Ryan hypothesis, that it was a submicroscopic black hole smaller than an atom and heavier than a mountain which caused the Tunguska Event. Dr. Adler manages to wangle his way onto a Russian expedition to the Tunguska Basin where his instruments confirm his worst suspicions: that the black hole never exited the Earth and is still in orbit inside the Earth’s mantle. If the black hole’s orbit starts to decay, it will spiral towards the center of the earth, eventually devouring all the matter on our planet.
On the other side of the planet, consultant Jon Knox has been strong-armed into helping government agent Marianna Bonaventure investigate the disappearance of one of many Russian scientists whose skills at creating weapons of mass destruction are in high demand by terrorists. Marianna is a brilliant analyst, but this is only her second assignment in the field. Marianna and Jon inveigle their way on board the mega-yacht of Russian billionaire Arkady Grishin. Grishin is hiring Russian scientists with unusual specialties and is suspected by the U.S. government of conducting WMD research. He also seems to be interested in the Tunguska Event. But what Arkady Grishin is up to goes far beyond the worst suspicions of the feds. It will be up to the team of a rookie agent, a cynical analyst, a computer expert and an astrophysicist to stop Grishinıs obsessions from destroying the planet.
Technothrillers are notoriously difficult to write — first, the author needs a “big idea.” Then, he’s got to find a way to turn that idea into a great story with characters you want to spend time with. Bill DeSmedt scores big on all counts in his debut novel, which reads like it was written by an old pro. DeSmedt delivers a lightning-paced plot, with fascinating scientific issues, likeable characters and crisp prose that speeds the story along to its shocking, and somehow very satisfying conclusion. — Claire E. White
Click here to read Claire White’s extensive interview with Bill DeSmedt.
Reminiscent of novels by science fiction masters like Robert A. Heinlein, Larry Niven, Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov — authors who based their stories on hard science — Bill DeSmedt’s debut novel Singularity is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride that revolves around a submicroscopic black hole in a decaying orbit deep inside the Earth’s mantle that will end only when it has devoured the entire planet!
The story begins on June 30, 1908, in a remote Siberian area known as the Stony Tunguska basin where something impacts the Earth and topples forests over an area half the size of Rhode Island. Was it fragments of a comet? An alien spacecraft? A solar plasmoid released from the sun? After nearly a century of conjecture, it remains the “cosmic mystery of the millennium.”
But Jack Adler, an American astrophysicist, thinks he has it all figured out. Furthering a much-ridiculed 1973 theory known as the Jackson-Ryan hypothesis, which supposes that a black hole — smaller than an atom and heavier than a mountain — was the culprit of the Tunguska Event, Adler believes the black hole didn’t exit the planet as Jackson and Ryan surmised, it’s still inside the Earth. Meanwhile, a rookie government agent, Marianne Bonaventure, and an unassuming analyst, Jon Knox, are thrown together as they try to figure out why a powerful Russian industrialist is secretly gathering scientists and spending billions on alleged WMD research.
With a cast of complex characters, highly inventive and witty prose, and enough intriguing plot twists to keep readers in a state of perpetual shock until the very last page, DeSmedt’s debut novel is easily as entertaining as any Michael Crichton or Greg Bear thriller.
Equal parts hard science fiction adventure and mainstream techno-thriller, Singularity is arguably one of the best debuts of the year. Remember the name: Bill DeSmedt. — Paul Goat Allen
Grade: A “What If?” is the mantra of the speculative fiction writer, and Bill DeSmedt asks one big What If in this blend of international espionage, particle physics, and cold-war thriller. What If... this were the one of the funniest, most frightening books of the year?
First time novelist Bill DeSmedt ably blends a mixture of science fiction technology and ideas with international thriller ass-kicking action and the inevitable romance between a reluctant hero and a female secret agent who is more than ready to rumble with the bad guys.
The story starts in Siberia in 1908, when something slams into the Earth, flattening a forest but leaving nothing in the way of an impact crater. Curiously enough, an astronomer notes the approach of something with a powerful magnetic field in the days before the impact, but when he trains his telescope at the area where the object should be, he sees nothing at all. His readings continue to show that something big — or at least powerful — is approaching the Earth, right up until the moment of impact: then his instruments read only magnetic silence.
DeSmedt has not made this up. It really happened, and it is called The Tunguska Event. Scientists and speculative fiction writers have toyed with a variety of ideas in the near-century since the event — “The X Files” made a two-part episode out of it (that dastardly black oil!), and fringe types claim the object that fell to Earth was an alien space ship powered by antimatter that vaporized upon impact. The strange thing is that no indication of actual impact exists, though hundreds of square miles of flattened forest clearly indicate that something big happened. A couple of physicists in the 1970s thought up the idea of a tiny black hole drilling the planet, but this idea has not been met with acceptance. As Carl Sagan put it, there were no reports of anything exploding out of the Atlantic Ocean an hour or so later, as would have happened if a miniature black hole had penetrated the Earth’s crust.
Bill DeSmedt has cut through the fence here with a simple, if chilling, idea: what if the thing that nailed Earth in 1908 really was an atom-sized singularity — and it’s still in there? What if it never shot up through the Atlantic Ocean, but instead took up orbit inside of our planet?
Using this speculation as a spring-board, and taking advantage of the Siberian impact site and his experience as a student of Sovietology, DeSmedt has fashioned a hefty, complex tale that puts a brilliant, intuitive analyst named Jonathan Knox together with a courageous, if green, agent for a post-9/11 National Security organization called CROM (kind of like James Bond’s MI-5, complete with nifty laser rifles and other hi-tech toys) and then pits the two of them against a Russian ideologue with a dangerous, possibly world-altering plan for how to put the singularity to his own uses — and reanimate the Russian Bear in the process. (He also has a super-villain flunky of the best sort: stolid, good at killing, and completely invested in his job... a smoothly lethal working stiff who bears the well-earned nickname of The Wolf.)
This is, among other things, a good old-fashioned Cold War thriller though it boasts a hefty dose of the modern: cutting edge technology, daring new science ideas that verge on the fantastic realm of science fiction, and a coolly appreciative take on the mysteries of intuition and human consciousness. A perfectly balanced blend of the flamboyantly outsized and the compellingly minute, setting spy novel conventions like super-yacht bases for well-heeled Russky villains against an all-too-possible scenario that physicists and laymen alike can appreciate, this book offers food for thought and washes it down with plenty of wry humor and Tom Clancy-ish black ops panache. This is such a nearly perfect novel in so many ways you might wonder just how a debut novelist knows so much — and what else he might have tucked up his sleeve.
Science Fiction for November 2004
I really enjoyed it when Jonathon Knox, computer consultant, uses his Treo (pda phone) to flummox the head of the spy agency trying to hire him (that’s because I have a Treo 600 and love it.) Bill DeSmedt uses one of the fantastic possibilities for the Tunguska meteor strike in 1914 — mini-black hole hitting Earth. In the near future the bad guys, ex-KGB, want to capture this black hole and turn in into a naked Singularity (hard from Per Adastra). Jonathon, and his female, partner, the hard- kicking Marianna, infiltrate Arkady’s luxury liner, using Jonathon’s links to old friends from Russia who are working on the secret project. This tale is a lot of fun, in a James Bond sort of way with interesting heroes and a larger-than-life villain in an epic attempt to save the world. However, when all the hard breathing is over, don’t look too hard at the vast under-water complex the villain built and the technology required. You couldn›t hide a project of this size and most the technology will not be available for decades, if not centuries. Fun with a twinkle. — Henry Lazarus
First time novelist Bill DeSmedt was watching a rerun of Carl Sagan’s epic PBS science series Cosmos on Saturday afternoon when Sagan started discussing the so-called “Tunguska Event” of 1908. Something fell to Earth on June 30 of that year, impacting a forested area of Siberia that still exhibits fallen trees in a miles-wide radius splayed outward around nothing. No crater, no meteorite fragments nothing. A whole minor industry in speculation about the event has sprung up. Was it an ammonia ice comet that exploded just above the Earth’s surface? Was it a hunk of antimatter, or maybe an alien starship powered by antimatter? Or was it perhaps a microscopic black hole, a remnant of the unimaginable violence at the moment the universe was born, that plunged to Earth? Sagan dismissed all theories except the ammonia ice comet, reserving for the black hole theory the comment that nothing was observed plunging up from the Atlantic Ocean later that same day, as one might have expected from a black hole tunneling its way straight through the planet. DeSmedt sat up with one of those terrific What Ifs that characterize the best speculative fiction ideas.
What if the atom-sized black hole proposed by the so-called Jackson-Ryan hypothesis didn’t come bursting out of the Atlantic because it was still inside the Earth? What if a tiny black hole has been orbiting the Earth’s core for nearly a century?
The result of that stroke of inspiration is the fast, fun, and scientifically too-plausible-for-comfort new novel Singularity. DeSmedt has pulled every last stop in writing this book: he has drawn on his experience as an "Information Engineering" consultant, his experiences in Russia as a Sovietology exchange student, and his avid avocation as an amateur physicist to put together a first-rate blend of wittily written international intrigue and science fiction that lies so close to science fact that DeSmedt raises your hackles and tickles your funny bone, often in the very same paragraph.
The espionage part of the book is recognizable from the genre-setting work of LeCarre and Ludlum, with a dash of Fleming, by way of Clancy and all his hi-tech, just-this-side-of-tomorrow gear. But that’s only part of the story the most superficial part, to be sure, if also the most fun. There is also an authentic understanding of Russian life, and a tightly-wound set of science fictional premises that are original, strange, and profound.
It’s hard not to rave about this juicy debut, but to say much more would be to spoil surprises tucked inside of surprises. Suffice it to say that like any good singularity, this novel will suck you right in and refuse to let you go. &mdash Kilian Melloy
If you liked The Da Vinci Code youıll like Bill DeSmedtıs Singularity. A superficial plot synopsis shows why: a female agent gets a male analyst involved in a search for something or other, and together they go on the run as they attempt to solve a puzzle, all the while being persued by a menacing, unstoppable loose cannon of a bad guy employed by the consortium which is guarding the earth-shattering mystery. Thereıs a bit of James Bond thrown in — the female lead is an agent for a secret department of the government, and the bad guy (who comes up with some of the most unusual ways to kill people!) has some odd dental work that brings Bond’s Jaws to mind. The book also reminded me of David Brin’s Earth, because the mystery involves a primordial black hole that entered Earth in the Tunguska impact of 1908. But similarities to any other books aside, the book stands on its own as a fun, thrilling piece of science fiction.
Singularity by Bill DeSmedt. Per Aspera Press, 2004. You can read the first 60 pages on-line, and listen to samples of the author reading Chapter 22: Departures and Chapter 23: Armageddon.
Marianna Bonaventure is an agent for a secret branch of the U. S. Department of Energy, and her assignment is to keep tabs on former Soviet scientists — making sure they don’t start selling their talents as WMD experts to the highest bidders. When she drafts an unwilling Jonathan Knox to help her in tracking down Galina Mikhailovna Postrel’nikova, an old friend from his days as a student in the Soviet Union, they end up posing as lovers on a Russian luxury yacht. Marianna attempts to investigate the science labs on the ship, while in Tunguska the Texan physicist Jack Adler is attempting to prove his cockamamie theory that the Tunguska Object is a micro black hole. Yuri Vissarionovich Geladze, a sure candidate for the Bad Guy’s Hall of Fame, is after them both. What secret is his employer protecting?
I just can’t resist listing other parallels to The Da Vinci Code, which include: Knox runs away from pursuers in a museum (the Smithsonian, not the Louvre!); Knox and Bonaventure flee to the luxurious country estate of an eccentric friend of Knox’s; the bad guy tracks them there using a method which they never thought about being used (although in Singularity, I must add it’s something no one would ever have thought of!). ...
OK, so I’ve made my point that there are a lot of parallels with The Da Vinci Code. (What else can you expect when, like most secondary school students, I spent a lot of time in my teen years comparing and contrasting two works?!) But let me assure you, Singularity is not the Mad Libs school of novel writing. I think a lot of these common threads are there just because they’re exciting to read about, and both the books are exciting.
One strength of Singularity is the female characters ... Bonaventure is a well-rounded action hero. She’s described as beautiful (“drop-dead gorgeous” is Knox’s first impression), and yet, when was the last time you saw an action hero look at herself in the mirror after putting on a bikini, and not be entirely pleased with what she sees? She lives life boldly and makes some real great mistakes. And Galina Mikhailovna Postrel’nikova is easily one of the most compelling minor characters I’ve encountered in a long time. Based on her role in the book, in the hands of a less assured writer she could easily have ended up merely a noble victim of suffering. But DeSmedt transcends a two-dimensional portrayal of her.
There are some real nice nuggets of writing in the book, too. Here’s a description that made me smile: “The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts illuminated the humid Washington dusk like a king-sized bug-zapper, the oranges and blues of its floods luring in all manner of lepidopterous nightlife, resplendent in chitinous tuxes and diaphanous evening gowns.” And Knox’s deadpan thought, “out of the frying pan, into the thermonuclear holocaust.” I enjoyed the book and I’m looking forward to more from DeSmedt. — Linda Tam
Click here to read an extensive blog/interview with Bill DeSmedt.
In 1908 Tunguska, a remote part of Siberia, a black hole star the size of an atom with the weight of a billion tons crashes onto the earth, but instead of a gaping diametric hole through the planet, it ends up orbiting inside the orb. Dr. Jack Adler investigates the internal orbiting star and concludes that life is in danger from the celestial object. Someone else obviously knows that too because someone attempts to murder Jack and his team.
CROM Agent Marianna Bonaventure drafts Jonathan Knox to help her prove that Russian billionaire Arkady Gristin is dealing with weapons of mass destruction. They wangle an invitation onto the Russian’s yacht, but fail to find evidence of WMD activities; instead they learn that Arkady is working on a secret project involving the black hole. Their discovery of Arkady’s activities proves dangerous, forcing the duo to flee for their lives in order to regroup and try to figure out a way to stop the Russian from exploiting the star.
Bill DeSmedt has written an exciting action-packed techno-thriller that will appeal to fans of Michael Crighton and Arthur C. Clarke. Readers will particularly like the scientific explanations that though complex are made easy to comprehend by the author. Jon and Marianne make a great team professionally and personally while the villain is much more than just an evil Bloefield or Goldfinger. He has in a twisted way a patriotic use for his findings. This talented author should receive accolades for a strong tale. — Harriet Klausner
First-rate science fiction thriller. Highly recommended. An immersive, taut, science fiction thrill ride. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
The central premise of Singularity supposes that a black hole did indeed strike the Earth...and it’s still there - circling the Earth’s core in a decaying orbit.
In the book, which takes place present day, the Tunguska Event is being investigated by physicist Dr. Jack Adler, out to prove his theory that the black hole is still there. His hypothesis is met with derision by the members of the annual Tunguska Expedition.
Meanwhile, a government agency (CROM - the Critical Resource Oversight Mandate - charged with tracking the brainpower behind weapons of mass destruction) is closing in on the head of Grishin Enterprises, a conglomerate tied with the disappearance of several Soviet Braniacs. Newbie field agent Marianna Bonaventure enlists the aid of (and by “enlists the aid of” I mean “coerces”) consultant Jonathan Knox. CROM’s path leads to Arkady Grishin’s mega-yacht, Rusalka, the floating home of Grishin Enterprises which remains protected from governmental intrusions by virtue of it residing in various international waters. With a little dangerous under-cover work and Jon’s intuitive abilities, a horrifying link is found between Grishin Enterprises and the Tunguska region. Then all hell breaks loose.
That’s the premise in a nutshell. In another nutshell, here is the hodgepodge of themes and ideas that are superbly woven into a thrill ride of a story: secret government agencies, intrigue, adventure, cosmology, Soviet culture, computer gadgetry, cutting edge science, time travel, quantum physics, holograms, assassins, the nature of reality and of course, the culture and lore of the real-life Tunguska Event. All of these items are wisely presented in context of the story and its characters. The author draws on his knowledge and experience as a consultant and Russian culture expert to build a believable and realistic ride.
What first, and immediately, drew me to this story was the Tunguska Event itself. I had never heard of it before but a little Googling goes a long way. The event is nothing short of fascinating for anyone even remotely interested in science. What the heck caused it?
The fictional story is entrancing, too. An opening scene with Marianna, out to recover an abducted foreign scientist, starts the action. Marianna’s backup plan to utilize the talents of wizard consultant Jon Knox was also well done as it was ripe with contention. The pace of the story was nearly perfect (more below) so as to make you want to keep reading. The writing was clear and the arguments logical. Throughout the whole story, in fact, situations and positions are clearly and logically explained so character motivations are believable and well understood. The author, much to my liking, avoids overly wordy descriptions of surroundings and instead concentrates on the story and the characters.
What about the characters? Being a techie myself, I suppose I related most to Knox and his uber-geek friend and resource, Mycroft. While Jon’s intuitive abilities were a bit “lucky” at times, it was really no great intrusion to the action or believability. Mostly his conclusions are sound. Marianna, the newbie field agent, was tough but fallible; in other words — human. Grishin CEO Arkady Grishin was a likable millionaire villain, but his hired hand Yuri was a bit of a letdown since he botched several murder attempts throughout the story. (What does an evil genius have to do catch a break?) Knox’s old acquaintances, Sasha and Galiana, were also likable as smart and devoted scientists who get mixed up with the wrong crowd in the glare of potential scientific notoriety. Some brief flashbacks with them paint in Knox’s background and provide some side drama.
Not that this story needed any side drama because there was plenty to go around. I was reminded of watching the first two seasons of 24 where the edge-of-your-seat suspense kept you coming back for more. And, as long as I’m pigeon-holing, I would say that the first half of the book reads like a taut techno-thriller (plenty of government agents, action, intrigue, etc.) and the second half reads like an excellent hard science fiction novel (a la Greg Bear or John Cramer) complete with time travel paradoxes and quantum physics.
Overall, the pacing was well done. If anything dragged the book down it was the inevitable romance between Marianna and Knox. It was a bit overplayed at times to the point of eye-rolling on the part of this reader. Still, that’s a minor nit that is excusable in the midst of so much other coolness.
Surprising to me is that this is Desmedt’s first book, one I whole-heartedly recommend. To create such a wonderfully enjoyable first novel is a worthy accomplishment. I anxiously wait for the planned sequel, Dualism. In the meantime, there is still so much more to learn about the Tunguska Event itself.
SIDE NOTE: The Vurdalak website is a good place to start. It is the home of the "real" Dr. Jack Adler. Actually, that’s a pseudonym used by a professor whose university wishes to distance itself from his “crazy ideas.” That professor took the pseudonym of Dr. Jack Adler from Singularity — he knows the author.