Book review: Trust in Axion, by Bruce Meyer
Trust in Axion is a book that says “Keep running!” and then it’s a book that says “You can’t escape this, so let’s all together turn around and face it!” and then you turn around, look it foursquare in the eye and notice everyone else has just kept running.
The bugbear we’re running from is dark matter, which is a good subject to pick because I can’t remember reading anything fictional that addresses this particular hypothetical substance. For those of you who aren’t keeping up or don’t watch low budget documentaries on Youtube, dark matter was hypothesised by researchers measuring the expansion of the Universe. To summarise, they calculated approximately how much mass was in the visible Universe, measured the rate of Universal expansion and then saw there was a huge discrepancy when you apply the Standard Model because it implied there was MORE gravity being applied (acting against expansion) than could be generated by that amount of mass. Why was the Universe holding together more than it should be? “There’s more matter somewhere”, they concluded. “We can’t see it though” (not good), “which is embarrassing” (definitely not good), so the search for Dark Matter was on.
Trust in Axion seems to say the reason we can’t see dark matter is because it folds itself into a pocket dimension, which can only be uncurled by a huge dose of gravity. In this future setting, a theoretical physics research institution on a higher education campus has built the conditions needed to replicate star birth (accelerated) and apply extensive gravitational pull (source? containment?). A pocket universe uncurls and the drama begins.
I know I’m the kind of person that sticks up their hand when everything’s going swimmingly and says “Excuse me, but…” anything inside a pocket universe, which is an extra dimensional space, would have no gravitational pull on anything not in its dimension. Therefore, if dark matter did this pocket dimension stuff, it would not explain the additional gravity holding OUR universe together. I suppose some could be held in this sealed pocket form and some could float free in our Universe and apply its gravity but that explanation wouldn’t be elegant because a proportion of it is acting differently under similar conditions. Also, if concentrated dark matter (lots of mass) has a gravitational pull (Standard Model) and you open a hole from here to there, I don’t think it would spew out — Wouldn’t we be pulled in? It can’t radiate out effectively either because it is a particle (it has mass), not a wave. The other question mark is around the negation of dark matter with the Higgs Boson (a quantum excitation of the Higgs field, also with mass but with no electrical charge). If we accept that Cern found the Higgs, which most people can’t explain the importance of, we should also accept their prediction that the mean lifetime of this particle is: 1.56×10−22 s. If a particle changes state in a hundred millionth of a blink, technology will have to advance significantly for future humans to be able to harness this and fire a stream of Higgs particles from futuristic bazookas because, currently, whatever hits the target would no longer be the Higgs, just whatever it has decayed into, so you may as well shoot some of that.
There’s one awkward line: “Could she could connect with the interface”, so I’d suggest tweaking. There’s also a flaw in the mobi file version I read, which must be some sort of conversion error rather than a mistake by the author — i.e. everything was probably correctly formatted in Word and then the file was converted into an ebook but that introduced an error which wasn’t spotted. Specifically, many of the paragraphs were separated as if some unseen hand had pressed a few carriage returns with random abandon. Universal chaos wins again. The same conversion issue has left a paragraph of raw html code at the bottom of the final page, not converted. None of this takes long to repair and I can assure the reader it will not detract from the readability of the book. Still, it should be tidied up.
I will stop criticising now because (whispers) in real life I’m not competent enough to find my own slippers or get off a train with the same number of bags I boarded it with, let alone chat with you about the application of physics (and one day they’ll catch me at lectures which are nothing to do with my degree). The honest truth is that this is the best science fiction book I’ve read in the last six months because it worked as a fictional adventure but it was also unafraid to take on a topic from scientific research that is very hard to write about meaningfully without compromising the excitement of sucking the reader into a headlong dash from the unknown. Applause.
The way characters changed was portrayed very well, creepy but it is also possible to see that representation as accurate, or theoretically reasonable. Picture the dimensions of length and breadth as a 2D drawing, X and Y axis-style. Now add depth and it looks more like a cube but it is still a 2D plane representation of a 3D field. Now add another dimension called time, which we know is there but it is very difficult to picture in four dimensions on a two dimensional page. THEN add another dimension at right angles to the other four. Tricky? Of course, but that’s a drawing in our reality which tries to describe multi-dimensional space. If that dimension broke through and melded with one our minds already have habitual experience of and can cope with, the visual reality of things around us would appear differently as the dimensions converged, i.e. surfaces moving, material instability and lots of things like creepy crawlies and snake-shapes coming out. This is better that the other alternative, which is that one of the two universes would cease to exist because you can’t have different universal (physical law) settings in the same reality. I’ve struggled to describe this concept to you and the author of this story has done that job much better than I by just showing what it looks like.
If you could open another dimension, should you proceed? Hubris? Oppenheimer had no certainty the reaction would stop when he set off his bomb and when Dr F. brought back the dead, in fiction, could he be sure they wouldn’t keep coming? This story is in the same vein, where even if someone reached the point where they believed they could uncork other dimensions, we should already have anticipated that danger in science fiction and have a plan to stop anyone playing dice before it happens. Icarus flew and one man died, Prometheus sacrificed his titan self so we could be trusted with matches but if a pocket dimension flowered, that could end every life in existence, everywhere. It’s a threat. With a bit of luck, the ability to try that will never be held in human hands as competence and incompetence are equally dangerous without wisdom.
That’s it. Trust in Axion is a good example of science fiction written the way science fiction should be. There are fantasy books that pretend to be science fiction but this one is the good ‘ole stuff, moonshine for theoretical thinkers. It has a strong concept, the human element, imagination and a hidden message to make you wake up. I was intrigued by this one and am pleased to recommend it to authentic science fiction readers as an object lesson in the folly of seeking to open multi-dimensional space. No one wants to look like a Picasso, but thinking like one is an experience worthy of an hour of your time.