Einstein’s Bridge, by John G. Cramer

Einstein’s Bridge, published in 1997, is the second science fiction novel of physicist John G. Cramer, after Twistor in 1989. Both are solid and entertaining hard science fiction novels, but Einstein’s Bridge is much more interesting: alternate histories, good aliens, bad aliens, super technologies, magic genetics and quantum communications, and the destruction of humanity by monster bugs, undone by intrepid inter-universal travelers.

Cramer is better known as a physicist than as a science fiction writer. A professor of physics at the University of Washington in Seattle, he proposed the Transactional Interpretation of quantum mechanics and theories of spacetime communication via quantum entanglement, often discussed in his Alternate View columns on Analog Science Fiction & Fact Magazine. He reproduces brilliantly the atmosphere of large scale high energy physics experiment, with physicists doing science, administration, politiks and ego wars. One of the first scenes is set at CERN, then the action moves to Texas. For a book written in 1997, the descriptions of interfaces like telepresence robots and “magic glasses” are very prescient.

Many physicists were disappointed when the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a particle accelerator complex under construction in the vicinity of Waxahachie, Texas, was cancelled in 1993 due to budget problems. But only Cramer wrote an alternate history where the SSC project was not canceled. In Einstein’s Bridge, the SSC is completed and wildly successful. This is not the only difference though — we catch some odd bits now and then like “We met as students at Florida State in 1992 while we were both working on Bill Clinton’s unsuccessful presidential campaign.”

In 2004, George and Roger are physicists working at the SSC. Alice, a successful fiction writer specialized in thrillers about dangerous insects and killer bugs, comes to the SSC to research her next book featuring ants mutated by the radiation from the SSC. Alice, who unfortunately will get to meet killer bugs much more dangerous than her worsts nightmare, is under cover as a science journalist working on a SSC story.

Experimental data lead to the discovery of a microscopic probe that appears out of nowhere after a very energetic collision, and broadcasts prime numbers. The probe is a wormhole (also known as an Einstein–Rosen bridge). Soon, the researchers are communicating with an alien civilization, the Makers. Communicating in realtime with aliens far away seems to violate many laws of physics and causality, but Cramer has a neat trick: the Makers are in a separate “bubble universe.” It turns out that advanced civilizations in the universe(s) are so rare that there is at most one per bubble.

The Makers are able to hook into the very high energies generated by SSC experiments to build bridges to our universe, and they can create nanomachines in our universe by sculpting molecules with radiation from the bridgehead. They create an emissary in our universe, who teaches super sciences to humanity and augments the researchers with the ability to perform advanced genetic engineering directly, within their body.

Unfortunately, some very bad guys in a third bubble universe have similar abilities.

The ultra-high-energy collisions that you have recently been producing are generating signals that echo throughout the Cosmos. They attracted our attention and resulted in our contact, but they are also likely to attract the attention of a less benevolent species, the Hive. The Hive is the only example of which we are aware of a social insect species, similar to your ants, bees, and termites, that has achieved intelligence. Their intelligence is collective…

Their form of contact is to establish a Bridge, then use coherent light beamed through the Bridge to manipulate atoms and construct nanomachines in the contacted universe. The Hive nanomachines then reprocess any matter they find into Hive components.

The Hive establish their own bridgehead and create an invasion force of very, very nasty bugs of all sizes. When it becomes evident that there is no way to stop the Hive from exterminating humanity, the Makers propose an extreme, desperate hard reset of reality: to “rewind the universe” to a time before the SSC and prevent the SSC from being built.

The hard reset destroys Cramer’s alternate reality, and creates ours.

George and Roger survive the destruction of the universe and emerge in 1987. Armed with their knowledge of 2004 science and technology, the new science revealed by the Makers, and their superhuman augmentations, they quickly create a business empire and engage in political lobbying that will result in the choice of a “suitable” Vice President in 1988, the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, and eventually the cancellation of the SSC project.

This is a good way to rationalize history — the SSC was cancelled to prevent the destruction of humanity by Killer Bugs! But I don’t think it can offer much comfort to the physicists and engineers who put their careers on the line for the project.

Image (Wikimedia Commons): a traversable wormhole that connects the place in front of the physical institutes of Tübingen University with the sand dunes near Boulogne sur Mer in the north of France.