The Man Who Saw Seconds by Alexander Boldizar

The man who saw seconds was reviewed in the Locus Magazine and sounded interesting, so I asked for a review Ebook and thankfully got one (thanks Clash books!).


The author Alexander Boldizar used to be a lawyer, which explains all the details about american law that are important while the plot moves forward and are usually provided by the protagonist's best friend Fish, who, by the way, is one of the greatest and coolest supportive characters in a novel I read during the last years. 




What it is about

Preble lives an unobtrusive life with his wife Jane and son Kaspar, and some friends, like his best friend Fish, who is a lawyer. His hobbies are chess and boxing and he earns a decent living with gambling.


Because Preble has the ability to look five seconds into the future. He has to actually look at it, can test possibilities and then know how they come out. It's not a long window maybe, but as he has trained himself to use it well, there is a lot he can do with it. It started with his puberty and does not always work, some very emotional states might prevent him from "seeing", but mostly, it works. 


However, he cannot see stuff coming which is farer in the future, that's why he finds himself in a conflict with two police officers in the subway, because he is taking up two seats with his chess bag. It's a trifle, really, in Europe, you see that all the time. I do not know about New York, but the reaction of the police officers seems a little too much. Nevertheless, Preble and the officers do not get along at all. As they demand to look into the bag, Preble refuses on principle, thinking about his friend Fish:


"Fish always said that if only people with severed heads in their bags claimed their rights, then pretty soon those rights would be gone."


One word follows the other, it escalates, the officers feel threatened are the carry guns.


Preble, being able to see the next five seconds into the future, cannot be hit, he always evades the shots, but this leads to the officers hitting each other instead. Support is called and in the end, many officers try to shoot Preble down, hitting each other instead. He is able to get home, but of course, his face is on the security cameras, so he debates first with his wife, later also with Fish, what to do. Because his wife Jane and his best friend Fish are the only ones to know about his ability - yet.


That's the point where I started to learn a lot about American laws, mostly through Fish's words, who is a lawyer. For example, the "felony murder rule", which, according to Fish means: "If someone dies as a result of your committing a felony, then you're guilty of murder." The question is: Was Preble committing a crime not letting himself be shot?


The bigger problem, of course, is that one of the people in charge, Bigman, sees the security video of the shooting and knows Preble can do stuff. He quickly knows what Preble would be capable of - and that makes him very fearful.


First, Preble decides to turn himself in, but that quickly goes very bad. Fleeing is not really good, either, as Bigman is determined to catch Preble. 

Great prose

Not only is there much suspense in the novel (there are times, where I just could not put it away), it also has great emotional moments, especially when it's about Preble and his son, Kaspar. 


Not only is Kasper well-written (he's only three, but a smart three-year-old, still believable, I hate it when children are written like babies, when there are no babies any more), the emotional bond between Preble and Kaspar also is great, both ways. As a mother myself, I could totally feel for Preble. Kasper feels very authentic for me and so does the relationship. They have great moments in a more quiet part of the novel.


"Kaspar was in kid heaven - hunting and fishing with Preble, gardening with Jane, and all of them reading together at night."


I can totally see that, having small children here myself.  

Science: Physics and biology

Although they talk a lot about biology and try to explain the main character's (Preble) ability, I doubt it's really biology. 

The quotes at the beginning suggest it might be more physics, and so does the punchline. As I won't spoil the ending, you'll have to trust me here. 

Nevertheless, the scenes in which medicine experts try to figure out what's different with Preble are intellectually stimulating and I do not want to miss them. Anyway, there might be a lot different biologically with Preble as well. 


I did not know that our human brains actually predict the future, even if it's only half a second or so. But we do that via anticipation, for example when we catch a ball, we'll just calculate where the ball might be at the time we will have to catch it.


There's more of it, and some talk about what might be different about the main figure, Preble Jefferson, to enable him to see more of the future. Even if this might touch physics more than biology. Either way, this is a science fiction novel and it should be translated to German to be read widely by our science fiction fans.


It's hinted at things Preble could be doing with his abilities, like working in a lab, cutting all the dead ends while seeing which experiment will go well and which will not. Much stuff to steal from for others to write other great novels about this idea, look from another angle.


Plus, there are frostbite issues which are really gross. I liked that, and plus, it's important for the story.

The premise of the story

There are many superhero stories around, especially movies. But what would really happen if a person with superhuman powers emerges? There is a reason to hide one's powers, and a good one. 


Preble is more a threat for most people than anything else. Although he has no ill intentions at the beginning, this changes as his family is endangered. 


It's a very sad story in many moments, but I appreciate how the plot evolves and it seems necessary in retrospect, as it's highly credible that it would evolve just like this. 


It may not be very american-friendly, as a European it's easy for me to digest. There are also some very cool telephone calls between Preble and the Russian president. (The Russian president is not the one in our reality and neither is the American one.)


Nevertheless, the premise is:

Don't be fearful, you'll do evil things.


Sounds banal (which is true for every premise, if you really cook it down), but it's a great showing how Fearfulness can end. As some people in charge are fearful of what Preble might be capable of, they do evil things, really evil things. 


Not being fearful (for which Preble's son might be the best example) can bring very good things. But this might be another premise for another novel. The next one maybe, Alexander?


To put it more in big letters:
This novel shows how to make monsters.

The punchline is great!

If you are used to prose like this, you might guess it early on, like I did on page 195. Nevertheless, it's still fun to read! And very, very thrilling.

It tends to be a bit more political as my usual comfort zone, but I could take it, as it felt well thought through. Much more than that Nicolas Cage movie, Next, which is based on a PKD-Story (I know the movie, not the story yet).

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