Gregory Benford. Aspect, $23 (344pp) ISBN 978-0-380-97435-1
Alicia Butterworth, a talented young black scientist, is elated to be able to try out her experiment in nuclear physics at Brookhaven National Laboratory's Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider. Things quickly go wrong with the experiment, however. After an explosion occurs, Butterworth finds a mysterious, chrome-colored ball floating in the wreckage. Not knowing what it is but realizing that it's something new to physics, Butterworth violates her agreement with Brookhaven by taking the ball to her own university for examination. There, she and her team of physicists and grad students must simultaneously study the marvel--which turns out to be a space-time wormhole--and fend off Brookhaven's attempts to shut down the project, a variety of religious crazies, environmental know-nothings and, eventually, the federal government. Benford (Sailing Bright Eternity) is himself a physicist of some repute, and his novel depicts cutting-edge science the way it's actually done in the cluttered, fund-starved laboratories of a modern university. His highly believable characters have little in common with the unrealistic scientists of so much SF. They're complex human beings, each with a full array of strengths and weaknesses, each fighting for time to do good work despite the demands of students, university administrators and friends. This may be the most enthralling science-fictional portrayal of how actual science is done since Benford's own Nebula Award-winning 1980 novel, Timescape. It provides a sterling launch for Avon's new SF and fantasy imprint, EOS. BOMC and QPB alternates; author tour. (Jan.) FYI: Benford, who, like Alicia Butterworth, teaches physics at the University of California at Irvine, is a recipient of the United Nations Medal in Literature.
Reviewed on: 02/02/1998