There is a duel nature to adjacency. According to award winning author Christopher Priest’s new novel, The Adjacent, adjacency is a sort of “misdirection” used by stage magicians to make the secret actions of the performer invisible to the audience. Two elements, that may appear similar, are used simultaneously, but one is a decoy deployed to enthrall the audience while the unnoticed performer can make the trick work. This duplicitous nature exists not only inside the narrative of The Adjacent, but also describes the actual tone of the book as well. The Adjacent is both astoundingly good and also amazingly frustrating! It is rich, engaging storytelling, but at the same time unfulfilling. In a story where theoretical (quantum) physics has had a devastating effect on a future world, Priest leaps readers back and forth through time via a series of short, somewhat related, tales, with the expectation of a grand denouement, that never quiet pays off.
The story starts in a near dystopian future where a free-lance photo journalist, Tibor Tarent, returns home to the IRGB (Islamic Republic of Great Britain), after traveling abroad, to report on the bizarre death of his wife Melanie. A strange new weapon capable of reducing humans (and even cities) to a scorched patch of triangular ground is being deployed by unseen terrorist, and Melanie was among their victims. Through most of this story Tibor travels inside and armored vehicle and his greatest challenge, aside from the frustrating bureaucracy of the IRGB, are the random attacks by these strange triangular explosions.
Then Priest takes the story back in time to World War I where Tommy Trent, a stage magician, has been commissioned by the military to help find a way to hide British war planes from enemy guns. It is here that readers learn about Adjacency and how magicians use it to hide the mechanics of their performance. Along his journey to the western front Trent meets writer H.G. Wells (also traveling to the front with his own innovation for the war effort), but soon after arriving he ultimately fails at his task and returns to London.
Tibor continues traveling across a devastated and scorched London until the story time travels again back to the present day where a physicist relates to an America journalist his regret for inventing a new method of quantum physics for “diverting matter” (with an intent to be used on deflecting incoming missiles) that has now been adopted by governments as a new ultimate weapon.
Tibor survives a massive hurricane, brought on by global climate change, and then readers are thrown back to World War II to meet Aircraftman first class Mike Torrance and beautiful female, Polish, aviator, Krystyna Roszca. Roszca is an ace pilot with the civilian ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) and dreams of one day getting to fly the Spitfire XI!
Then the story goes to Prachous, a strange Island where alternate versions of the characters from previous chapters come together to live in a strange utopia. It is here that readers will get a glimpse at the effect of the quantum damage being done by the adjacent weaponry, but just a glimpse.
Okay, here’s where some spoilers are going to be introduced, so continue reading at your own risk…
This wasn’t necessarily a bad book, and Priest has a clear talent for crafting a story, but the characters are to subjected to their environment and, for their part, they are just as clueless to as what is happening around them as the readers of their story will be. Most of the story was about Tibor and Melanie trying to find each other through various alternate timelines, caused by the use of the adjacent technology. Melanie is obviously the ace pilot, Krystyna Roszca, and (I speculate) that alternate versions of Tibor are represented in Torrance and Trent. Maybe this was supposed to be a love story, but if so, then why was Tibor (a man with almost no charisma) bedding nearly every female he encountered during his travel across England? And why were Melanie and Tibor so bad at recognizing each other in each alternate universe they reappear in? Whatever the answers may be, it’s also clear that the “trick” worked. Though frustrating to read, The Adjacent keeps you focused and immersed in Priest’s near future dystopia. Much like the T.V. show Lost, it raises questions that the audience is eagerly anticipating the answer to, but also like Lost there will be a W.T.F(?) moment at the final conclusion.