The God Wave
Patrick HemstreetThe God Wave
Harper Voyager
Release Date:  May 17, 2016
ISBN 978-0-06-241950-7

The tale starts simply:  neuroscientist Chuck Brenton is musing on the plasma-screened brain wave chart of a cellist as she concentrates on mastering a difficult musical passage, and thinks back to when EEGs of those electrical impulses were recorded, as his assistant Eugene elegantly puts it, “with little inked needles and lo-o-ong pieces of gridded paper.”  As he watches the musician’s brain wave pattern slip into a gamma rhythm, he thinks:

“What if…

What if these electric impulses could be harnessed to move something other than a pulse of light on a screen or a slender filament of metal?  What if they could make other objects dance?”

And that’s just the beginning.

When mathematician Matt Streegman joins Chuck with a key element for their exploratory experimentations, Forward Kinetics is born.  With Matt as the numbers guy and Chuck as the vision (and moral compass), assisted by Eugene and Dice (a robotics genius), they begin experimentation with channeling brain waves from their first three subjects:  an architect, a video game programmer, and a construction engineer.  What they find is astonishing – and exciting. Chuck adds an artist into the mix, Matt slips in a martial arts expert.

It turns out, with a mixture of conditioning and practice, the tests subjects are able to enter into a mental state which produces a previously unknown type of brain wave – they dub them zeta waves – that can affect not only electrical input, but physical systems.  Not telekinesis, but a manipulation of physical components using electrical impulses in the brain.  The possibilities seem endless.

Once Forward Kinetics goes public, winning over skeptics and naysayers, the scientific community sits up and notices.  But soon after, other factions notice as well, most notably the military.  And something far deeper and far darker than the military.  Suddenly all those wonderful possibilities don’t seem all that rosy anymore.

Yes, “exploiting the untapped power of the brain” is an overworked theme of late, but what sets The God Wave apart is how laid back it is, and how the action slowly inches ahead in a very convincing way.  At first I was a bit perplexed by this atypical treatment of what is usually considered a fantastical theme, but I liked it – and continued to like it as the story progressed.

Indeed, the excitement of scientific discovery drives the story forward, but what keeps it grounded – and interesting – is the messy, mundane undercurrents that make it real.  Chuck’s scientific acumen is central to Forward Kinetics but his idealism has him butting heads with the more pragmatic Matt, and each of them keeps secrets from the other in the belief that they know what’s best for the company and all its potential.  Every step is carefully taken, and yet there is a naiveté that is palpable along with the thrill of discovery.  We as readers root for the key player in this story, and yet we fear for what lies ahead – and with good reason.

We get swept up in the discovery process – both on the scientific end and from the business angle.  Thankfully both are accessible to us as readers, even though I imagine very few of us understand the inner workings of the brain, or have created our own company.  Kudos goes to author Patrick Hemstreet; he himself is a neuroengineer, entrepreneur, patent-pending inventor and special warfare trained Navy medic (as well as novelist, stand-up comedian and actor) and that full-spectrum knowledge does him well.  When the book finally does move from scientific discovery and business development into full blown action thriller, we are fully vested.

And oh, my, when it gets going, it really takes off.  I was totally hooked.  (Enough said on that – I don’t want to spoil anything for you.)

The only thing I struggled with in The God Wave was the ending.  After spending so much time building up the story, it seemed to end quite abruptly, with some characters left hanging.  Not a cliffhanger, no, but I definitely got the feeling like there is more to this story – a sequel, perhaps?  If so, it would have been nice to have gotten an inkling that there was more to come; otherwise, a few extra pages or an additional chapter tying up all the loose ends would have been good.

But that certainly would not cause me to temper my enthusiasm for The God Wave.  It’s not often that I read a speculative / science fiction novel that is both atypical and understandable, and I appreciated this novel’s clarity of both the empirical and the empathetic (and the later mayhem, as well).  If this is the only novel we see of Forward Kinetics, so be it.  But if another one hits the shelves, I’ll certainly be looking forward to reading that one, as well.

~ Sharon Browning

Related Posts