The Boolean Gate
by Walter Jon Williams
Review by Linda Marie Schumacher
Subterranean Press Hardcover (signed & numbe ISBN/ITEM#: 9781596064607
Date: 31 October 2012
Links: Author's Website / Publisher's Book Page / Show Official Info /
The Boolean Gate, by Walter Jon Williams, is fun to read but fairly simple. The story is character-driven with Samuel Clemens, or Mark Twain, as the lead character. The story takes place primarily in New York City circa 1900. Clemens is very specific to note the difference between his public personality as Mark Twain and his real self as Sam Clemens. The secondary character is Nikola Tesla. He and Clemens are friends and visit each other. Nearly every American school kid knows Mark Twain, but let me talk a little about Tesla. Nikola Tesla's inventions affect our lives daily, most notable through alternating current technology. He also invented several other items including the Tesla coil that is used to produce high voltage alternating current electricity and the hydroelectric power station at Niagara Falls.
The plot is thin, Clemens and Tesla are friends. Tesla is developing a new invention involving wireless signal transmission and electrifying the earth. Clemens helps Tesla with funding, and Tesla's inventions and Clemens' daily life are pretty much the plot of the book. The story does have a twist at the end, but I will not spoil that.
On the character side, I was a little surprised at the personal life of Clemens. He is chronically unhappy. At the beginning of the story he loses a daughter and his wife is terminally ill. He suffered bankruptcy due to a poor invention and is speaking on the lecture circuit to maintain his lifestyle. His opinion of the world is poor. It is quite the contrast to the public life of Mark Twain, the perpetual humorist and the funny quotes that we all know. Tesla is literally the 'mad scientist'. He is brilliant, but odd, and I found his perceptions and actions entertaining as I read the book. J.P. Morgan is also a character and gets involved as a funding source for Tesla. The book also refers to many of the big money barons of the time such as Westinghouse and Rockefeller. I found the historical aspects of the story interesting too.
The part of the book I found most interesting is Tesla's inventions. He was theorizing wireless signal transmission and logic circuits, which we know came true. He was attempting to communicate with other planets in the solar system -- as far as I know that has not been realized yet. He also hoped to electrify the Earth so that power would be transmitted through the ground and available anywhere -- another feat he was attempting that has not been realized.
I recommend The Boolean Gate as a light and fun read.