The Spacetime Pool by Catherine Asaro (2008) is a novella from Analog (sci-fi magazine). The story uses the Riemann sheet to explain the portal between alternate universes. The story also contains hostile raiders, a family feud and a prophesy.
The opening line starts with the following sentence, “[t]he hiker vanished.” Janelle Aulair, a recent graduate from MIT, is hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains when she sees the hiker disappear and goes looking for this human aberration. She runs into a male stranger, a man who seems to know her by name. Startled, she makes a run for it and finds herself transported to a sandy white beach.
The stranger’s name is Dominick Michael Alexander Constantine and he lives in an alternate universe from her own. He’s a member of the royal family and has an ongoing, bloody, feud with his older brother, Maximilian, the Emperor of Othman. Dominick’s been looking for Janelle because she’s apart of some soothsayer’s prophesy that has pitted the two brothers against each other.
Much of the story show Janelle adapting to this new culture and indirectly helping Dominick in his ambition to topple his brother’s throne. She has no choice, the gate to her time is closed. As for the culture shock, being the daughter of a diplomat, Janelle seems to stumble her way through the social strictures of this very reserved group of people. She inadvertently makes gaffes but tries to blend in.
In this world, women have no power. A woman of value is one who possesses beauty, youth, fertility and intellect with the latter being unimportant. Jewelry is used to symbolize one’s status within this culture and it is that which gets Janelle into trouble. It’s unfortunate for her, in that, she is seen as the cause of much strife between the two brothers. She’s a stranger with no ties to either of them. Ultimately, she comes face to face with Maximilian, the emperor of Othman and the difference is striking.
I’m a Asaro fangirl so I didn’t find much to complain about with this short story. It was a bit slow in spots and the romance while nice, it wasn’t fully developed. No time. What I found fascinating, though, was the science behind the story. Don’t look for me to explain the Riemann sheet as I am not a mathematician. In this story, however, it is a mathematical abstract made into reality by a group of ancient people who, I guess, used this key to transport themselves to an alternate universe. They left behind a lot of knowledge, with little of it used by the people of Othman. Lucky for Janelle, she has a math degree and she is able to decipher a lot of it.
Janelle makes some key revelations about Dominick’s ancestors and she can, maybe, make use of some of the information they left behind to go back to her time. She wonders how Dominick and his brother can have a working knowledge of math despite the lack of a formal education behind it. The palace artwork resembles that of math functions and contains a hall named after a mathematician. Brilliant work displayed everywhere but no one seems to know anything about it. And the Jade pool? It’s a viewing portal into alternate universes.
To sum this up, this was a quick read and enjoyable one but not really all that memorable compared to her other short works (A Roll of the Dice ). I find a lot of the math in her books beyond my knowledge but still interesting. Anyway, this was a low B read for me. I needed a bit more romance in here in order to fully satisfy my reading palette. The Spacetime Pool is a Nebula nominee and if you want to, you can read it for free here and here (Facebook). Enjoy and be glad. I paid for my copy.