Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Literally the Best Reviews: The Chaos Function

The Chaos Function - Jack Skillingstead
Houghton-Miflin Harcourt
309 Pages

I tried several times to read The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead. I would borrow it from the library with a couple of other books, and I’d start it after reading another book or two. Whenever I tried to renew it, there was someone who had a hold for this book, and I had to give it up. And so I waited for it to show back up on the shelves at the library, only to repeat that scenario a couple of times. Finally I got to read it and learn what all the fuss was about.

Olivia Nikitas is a reporter who has been covering the war and its aftermath in Aleppo when she gets an opportunity to get some behind the scenes footage in a very dangerous part of the city. With her new lover, Brian, and her guide, they make their way into a part of the city where danger lurks in every shadow. During an attack on their position, Olivia and Brian take refuge in a temple, only for Brian to die from his wounds. But does he?

Olivia clearly remembers Brian dying, yet she finds him only slightly injured and recovering back at home. She has two distinct memories of what happened in Aleppo - one where Brian dies, and one where he doesn’t. She struggles to rectify the differences between her apparent realities.

Suddenly she finds herself in the middle of a war between two factions of the same group. This group is dedicated to controlling human history through manipulation of key events. That power accidentally crossed into Olivia when Brian lay dying in her arms. Now that group is gunning for her, the untrained initiate, so they can rip her powers from her and utilize them for their own good fortune. Even if it means her death.

Then she’s on the run to save her own life and everything she thought she knew is called into question, including what her reality is. And now with defectors from the group trying to help her, she has more questions. When it comes down to it, the very fate of humanity rests in the hands of Olivia. Will she make the right choice? Will common sense prevail over heart?

This book was not in the science fiction section of the library, which probably gave it much more life in circulation. It borders right at the edge of that genre, and it was superb. Think of the movie, The Butterfly Effect. Every action has a reaction that sends ripples out from it. Even the smallest of actions can have dire consequences. This book explores some of the consequences over a long period of history, and how each event makes up the whole. Take one minor item out of the equation and everything can change. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes for things that are far worse.

The pace of this novel is in fits and bursts which works very well. Each time a new scenario arises, there is a rush to understand the changes before settling in and trying to think of ways to improve what has happened. As more time goes by, the new scenarios become more and more desperate and the pace quickens as Olivia has to rush to make hopefully the right choice. The writing follows this rush of events very well. I ended up reading quicker in places where the action is dramatic and slower where the characters are taking a slight breather. It was like a breather for the reader, too, and it was very well done.

The premise behind this book, without giving it all away, reflects on the decisions that we each make every day to move our collective history forward. And it shows that where there’s power, there will always be a battle for it. Even the best of intentions can have the most dire consequences.

The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead is an excellent thriller with a nice dollop of science fiction to top it off. I liked the opportunities that the premise offered, and I loved that the author boldly took those chances to bring together an incredible novel. 

Craig Bacon sometimes wishes he could change some events, but mostly he just wants his superpower to be flying.