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Fiction: An unlikely hero emerges in ‘Phase Rider’

What would you do if the world was about to end? Would you want to spend your remaining days with friends and family? How about hunkered down in a shelter hoping that you'll survive impending Armageddon? Few people would choose to take on a suicide mission, even if they're bound to die anyway.

That's what sets the hero of David Levin's "Phase Rider" (LightLit), Bobby Alderson, apart from the pack. He's good-natured, gentle and, thanks to an experimental protein injection, smart as a whip with an IQ well into the gifted range.

When the world's top scientists search for a volunteer to go to space to stop the phase transition that threatens to wipe out the entire solar system, Bobby quickly emerges as the right person for the job.

Sci-fi fans or anyone with an appreciation for the gifted child trope will love this character and his arc: like Owen Meany, he's an unlikely protector of the innocent with a heart of gold and an unshakeable faith in God. Like Charlie Gordon from Flowers for Algernon, his new (and exceptional) intelligence allows him to observe the world from a unique vantage point.

Bobby is grateful to his father figure, Dr. Jessup, one of several doctors in this novel attempting to save the world, and strives for his own agency. However, author Levin asks the question: If Bobby is being volunteered for a one-way trip to space, which he cannot come back from, is he truly exercising his own agency, even if he answers the call?

Rounding out the supporting cast are Dr. Ayana, an imposingly tall scientist working diligently to find a way to halt phase transition, and the hilariously named President Lucille Ballieu.

Everybody speaks a mile a minute, employing complex scientific language that's hard sci-fi with a wry edge. At times "Phase Rider" reads like a clever, slim volume of whimsical fiction that just so happens to involve a whole bunch of scientists.

Assembling the top scientific and political minds to decide the best course of action is thrilling, and the perfect set-up for the novel's final act: Bobby's ascent into space, protected, hopefully, by the combined powers of science and God.

As Bobby travels into the great unknown, with a multitude of variables that can stop his mission before it even begins, he develops a bond with his onboard computer and even meets a curious alien. The alien asks Bobby "Why are you here? I am sure your instruments detected the catastrophic event happening near the next galaxy. I cannot understand the reason you would hasten your demise by coming so close to it."

Bobby replies, simply, "To save everybody. By stopping the phase transition."

Though the alien holds the secrets of the universe, nothing can really beat that matter-of-fact goodness. In a universe where everybody values rational thinking over emotion-driven decision-making, Bobby's sentimental streak and love for humankind win the day.

"Phase Rider" is now available for purchase.

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