Secret Passages – Paul Preuss

Secret Passages

Summary

Manolis Minakis, a brilliant mathematician, found success in the business world. But he continues an interest in applied physics that leads him to orchestrate a collaboration with physicist Peter Slater, by means of Slater's wife, Anne-Marie. As a cost of this subterfuge, he tells her his life story.

Review

I recall that when I bought this book, I had some concerns, but that something at last convinced me that there was a true SF element to it. I’m not sure now what that convincing factor was. There is indeed some SF in this book, but it’s slight, and fairly peripheral to the core story. I’ve also, for some reason, long confused Paul Preuss with Richard Paul Russo. Beyond the name ‘Paul’, I’m not sure what they have in common, but it did steer me wrong when starting the novel.

This is essentially a fictional memoir of a Greek orphan and mathematical genius, Manolis Minakis, told to a photographer, Anne Marie Brand, with her own goals, and a complicated relationship of both characters with the photographer’s husband, Peter Slater. Unfortunately, while Preuss does begin the story with Minakis, it feels for some time like Peter and Anne Marie and the present are its heart, so when he suddenly dumps us into Minakis’ long life story, it’s a bit bewildering. With occasional brief returns to the present, the center of the book focuses on Minakis’ biography, and that’s largely what the book is about, to the extent that the rest is chiefly a wrapper for Minakis’ life. There is a secondary thread about Anne Marie’s history, but it’s not presented as clearly as it might be, and her reactions are not entirely consistent.

There’s no question that Preuss is a skilled writer, and the characters are intriguing, but I found the book poorly balanced. He also forces the characters into growing relationships (esp. between Brand and Minakis) that have relatively little foundation. We learn a little more at the very end, but it’s not clear what we’re to make of it, and it comes too late to play a useful role. This is the kind of book that would probably be more rewarding on a second reading, but also unfortunately not one I would be interested enough in to re-read.

The science fiction element is there, if largely theoretical. Toward the end, there’s a sizeable revelation that seemingly exists only to play a small role in the personal stories; it’s otherwise largely ignored. This book is best read as contemporary literature rather than science fiction – as the invented memoir of a scientist. Read that way, it could be quite good. As I was expecting SFF, I was disappointed.

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