This is the (long delayed) sequel to the author's first novel, The Eidolon, which impressed me so much when I reviewed it over four years ago. This is my review from then:
The plot is set in the present day and concerns Robert Strong, a young theoretical physicist who is contacted by the Observation Research Board, a shadowy but powerful organisation. ORB presents convincing research evidence that the experiments with the CERN Large Hadron Collider may result in the creation of "strangelets", sub-atomic particles which, by interacting with ordinary matter, could destroy our present reality. However, CERN had dismissed the risk, so ORB wants Strong to sabotage their research before it is too late.
So far the plot seems like a techno-thriller with a rather more fundamental plot than most, and (as far as I am competent to judge) the author has done her research into theoretical physics while displaying her knowledge with a light touch that doesn't distract from the story. What struck me first about the novel is how beautifully and intelligently written it is, how full of perceptive observations. It's difficult to write a lot more without spoilers, so all I will say is that the plot develops in very unexpected and increasingly strange directions that compel Strong to question his understanding of the nature of reality.
The Eidolon is that rare thing, a novel with a unique and intriguing plot that has no respect for traditional genre boundaries. The only other book I have read in recent years of which I could say the same is China Miéville's The City and the City. While The Eidolon is complete in itself, the world the author has created clearly has far more scope for exploration, so I was delighted to read in the interview that she is working on the sequel. That one will go straight to the top of my reading pile.
Given the length of time that has passed, I decided to re-read The Eidolon before starting The Fifth Force (prompted also by its choice as as a book of the month for the Classic Science Fiction discussion group (https://groups.io/g/ClassicScienceFiction/topicsI read it in two sessions and was just as gripped by the story the second time around, especially since I had forgotten most of the plot! The quality of the writing shines throughout; to give an example chosen at random:
A lazy winter sun struggles to dispel the bleak mist that lingers over the land like banished cloud. The glen has an earthy scent; the scent of wood and plants and rain and life: not the sterile life of the city, but the life that grows and struggles and prevails unnoticed all around. The engine room of the planet. As I walk up along the well-trodden path I listen to the sound of my boots on the rocks and soil. It makes me feel a part of the land, that noise. But I'm uneasy. I feel like a guitar that's out of tune, too subtly to say which string is off, but enough to know that the whole thing doesn't sound right.