by Steven Gould
Edited by Beth Meacham
Cover Artist: Getty Images
Review by Ernest Lilley
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765327574
Date: 08 January 2013 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
Cent, short for Millicent, which blessing her mom shared and had already used up Millie, might seem to have a lot going for her. True, she lives in a lodge in the Yukon, but it's not like she doesn't get out much. When she's not snowboarding on her private slopes, she can jump over to fresh powder in Northern Japan anytime she likes, or go surfing off the Great Barrier Reef if she wants to warm up a bit. True, one of her parents is always along, but she is a teen, and they're both pretty cool, spending their time working with global relief efforts, and bringing home exotic takeout from around the world. Her big problem is that she doesn't exist. On the other hand, it's the only thing that's keeping her from being locked in a cell somewhere, a cell that wouldn't exist either.
It's her parent's fault really. Cent is the off the books offspring of the only two humans in the world who can teleport, and they've been doing it for two books, and a short story ("Shade"), not to mention a somewhat divergent movie. Like the characters in Alfred Bester's 1956 SF classic, The Stars My Destination, her dad, David "Davy" Rice, discovered the ability to jump to another place when threatened, and eventually her mother picked up the ability as well in "Reflex" (2004) when she rescued Davy from a secret organization that captured him and wanted to learn his secret. And, of course, they'd be cheerfully willing to take him apart to do it.
So, after escaping their clutches, Davy and Millie found a remote cabin in the Yukon to use as a home and base of operations, and a place where they could raise their daughter in safety. But what teen wants safety? What Cent wants is friends and the chance to experience teen culture.
Since Cent can't jump herself she's pretty much a prisoner of her parents' concerns, even if she's seen more of the world than the most spoiled jet setter, but that all changes when she takes off to go snowboarding and gets caught in an avalanche, only to find herself (and a few cubic yards of snow) back in her bedroom. Like both her parents, her ability to teleport has been activated by extreme danger, and though it takes her a while to learn to control it, her parents have to face the same dilemma all parents face: they can't keep her safe forever.
So they pick a town that seems pretty quiet, buy a house, not that they're actually going to sleep there, since they can jump back to the Yukon at will, and enroll Cent in high school. Though she's academically pushing college level in math, science, and literature, she goes in as a Sophomore, because the one subject she never studied was being a teen, and they figure she'll need the practice.
Cent makes friends with the outcasts Jade and Tara, right away, and an enemy of the school's queen, Caffeine, just as easily. Unfortunately, for her, she has no idea of how deep Caffeine's darker connections go. The town may look sleepy, but it's got its underworld, and Cent is biting off more than she knows when she stands up to the bitch/bully.
And of course, there's teen romance, which follows some predictable paths, from the crush on the good looking guy who turns out to be shallow to the attraction to the smart guy who turns out to be, well, we'll leave some mystery.
Though Cent stirs up local trouble, she keeps it from her folks, mostly, who are out magically making food appear at refugee camps and saving flood victims. The idea that you can be a superhero aid worker and still go home for a shower at the end of the day is very attractive. Unfortunately, there's no such thing as purely local in today's connected world, and though her parents are practiced at hiding their talents lest the bad guys who'd like to put them on a slab in a lab show up, Cent's not quite as good at hiding her talent.
So you can see where that all goes, and trust me, it's an exciting jaunt.
Though Gould doesn’t deal with much with the implications of being able to teleport, or give the family much of a model for living except by staying out of sight and hoping no one notices while doing what they can to save the world, he does add a nice bit of teleport technique to the repertoire when he brings up the business of conservation of momentum.
Probably through caring more about the story than the physics, Gould's jumpers always show up standing still relative to their environment, which means that they are not only moving in space, but the motion they had before is being killed. As he points out in Impulse, that's a very good thing; because jumping from say Boston to Columbia means that you're going from one rotational speed on the earth to another, with a differential that could tear you apart. He's not the first person to notice this in SF, by the way, and you'll find Heinlein dealt with it by using energy absorbers in the star gate technology he used in Tunnel In The Sky (1955).
What Gould adds is that Cent figures out that if a jumper can lose energy during the jump, maybe she can choose to gain it as well. If she can, it will mean that she can do more than just fall with style.
Impulse's strength comes from Gould's ability to build engaging characters, usually teens, and wrap them in dangerous situations that they look for ethical ways out of. What it doesn't do is come up with a way out of the dilemma posed by being the only people on earth who can jump, and as a result having to live in the shadows. That will prove a harder task, and we can only hope he manages it as the story continues.