How would I assess Primary Inversion as hard SF, rather than simply as ‘general’ SF? Hmm … I’m not completely comfortable with the psionic aspects of the story, which while necessary and integral to the plot didn’t always feel natural or consistent to me. In this respect, I sometimes found suspension of disbelief to be a struggle, and I suspect hard-SF purists (among whose number I do not count myself) would likely have greater problems with it. But Asaro always makes an effort to justify her extrapolations, and in that respect the story certainly plays fair by the rules of hard SF, in spirit at least. And her FTL gimmick is brilliantly imaginative—and followed through with a storyline which treats it as more than a gimmick, with some genuine speculation on the ramifications of such technology for travel, warfare, and civilisation. (I should note here, also, that Asaro has authored academic papers on such FTL possibilities.)
As it turns out, my selected review book, Primary Inversion, contains neither diagrams nor formulae. It’s Asaro’s first published novel, dating from 1995, and is one of a large number in her ‘Saga of the Skolian Empire’ (although it doesn’t technically mark the beginning of the Saga, since some subsequently-published books deal with preceding events. The Wikipedia page has a helpful flow diagram, to assist with following the timeline).
|Primary Inversion (1996)||Catherine Asaro |
(click on names to see more mathematical fiction by the same author)
Perhaps the best thing about this book (and her other books) is that Asaro balances hard science fiction with a genuine effort to write about *people*. Catherine Asaro is a unique woman because she is not only a chemical physicist (Ph.D., Harvard), but also a ballerina. Her characters often show a similar duality. Some of her books are more romance novels than hard sci fi, but there are quite a few gems in this series. "Primary Inversion", "Radiant Seas", "The Moon's Shadow", and "Schism" all tell the story of Sauscony Valdoria and her kids, and these are some of her most "hard" sci fi novels. In addition, the story of Soz's brother, Kelric, is told in "The Last Hawk" and "Ascendant Sun", and both of these novels are equally entertaining.
Called by Booklist "one of the best SF first novels in years", Kirkus Reviews praised PRIMARY INVERSION: "An imaginative debut that takes off at a frantic pace, with dazzling technology, stirring battles and mental hijinks ... plenty of energy and invention."