Title: Worlds Enough & Time

Author: Dan Simmons

Tor Books / 466 pages / 13 July 2003


No matter how many times I asked you to put Charisma down and get some sleep you wouldn’t listen, so at least let me remind you to breathe. Yes, you’ll be helplessly rivetted to the book long after all “sensible” people are asleep, but some of us are powerless to resist Steven Barnes’ driving prose, so don’t be too hard on yourself. And, as I said, prompt yourself to take a breath every now and then, when you start to feel light-headed.

Charisma is Steven Barnes at his suspenseful and shocking best, putting ordinary people in the midst of inexplicable circumstances, with everything they cherish on the line. Perhaps, where you live is different, but the people in Charisma are the people I queue up with for movies, that I gripe to about the kamikaze drivers, that make up my landscape. Put these people in danger and you alternately enrage me and scare the hell out of me.

Now, we are always looking for ways to improve the odds for the next generation, to give the children a better shot at avoiding our mistakes. Suppose you were to take the template of a phenomenally successful, inspirational person and find a way to imprint that masterpiece of a human being onto young children. Surely, they would grow up to icons just as worthy as their role model. But, right, there is the downside: do we ever really know everything we need to know about another person?

Someone in the program should have looked closer, because Alexander Marcus, their model business man and humanitarian, also just happened to be a sexual psychopath, a serial killer. Now, that behaviour may also be indelibly engraved on the psyche of every one of the children who unknowingly underwent this imprintation process. No one knows but the group who administered the undisclosed program, and they are determined that no one ever will know. They’ll keep their secrets and they’ll take care of anyone who threatens to unmask them or follow in Marcus’ footsteps, no matter what they have to do.

Barnes knows how to crank the suspense to an almost unbearable level, until you find you cannot read fast enough to outrun all the potential bullets aimed in your direction. It’s too easy to imagine that these are living, breathing humans in harm’s way, not static characters that freeze when you stick your bookmark in and walk away. Some of these people need protection and others arouse only fear and cold hatred, but none fail to move the reader in some way.

Pair that kind of vivid characterisation with clean, tight prose with not a word wasted and you’ll see why Barnes’ book are so irresistible. And, after you sample a bit of it yourself you’ll see why he has gathered such a devoted following in such a short time.

And remember, stop… take a breath.