Verdict: Author Lesley L. Smith’s strengths are her super-imaginative situations and absorbing scientific subject matter. Her sophomoric storytelling and banal dialogue, however, limit the appeal of CONSERVATION OF LUCK, a quirky sci-fi tale.
Writing an affecting page-turner isn’t rocket science or quantum physics. Author Lesley L. Smith proves it’s a lot harder in CONSERVATION OF LUCK, a science-fiction thriller jam-packed with characters, unexpected situations, moral questions and an off-beat narrator. Smith has a Master’s and Ph.D. in Elementary Particle Physics, and a slew of scientific jobs and self-published science fiction novels, so she doesn’t lack credentials, or passion. What she lacks, is an ear for dialogue and a tough editor to hone her storytelling.
Twenty-something U Kansas grad student Ella Hote, a double major in Physics and Computer Engineering, has brains, beauty and a penchant for gambling. The flaky, yet analytical Ella comes to realize that her quantum computer can make the longest of long shots pay off. The ambitious narrative (in first-person by Ella, unfortunately) opens in the near-future at a poker game among brainy grad students, as we breathlessly follow Ella to her master’s defense of her invention, and witness what unfolds once her quantum computer is tested, rather understatedly. Suspense builds. The pacing makes sense, filled to the rim as it is with shootings, awkwardly (written) spilled coffee, floods, break-ins, ambulances, casinos, quarantine, coffee shop craps, and pointed yet inexplicit sexual references. Ella thinks nice guys are boring.
She learns there are logistical and moral implications for every stroke of good luck, because someone else pays the price…in bad luck. Is it okay to work those odds? When lives are at stake, she takes a scientific approach, rejecting the shooting craps credo to “play it as it lays.” Relationships cover love interest Jayden, little sister Hannah, best friend Crystal, a caring mom, deadbeat dad, and a bad guy, all with unrealized potential choked by the cringeworthy dialogue and deficient wordcraft.
There’s an art to conveying nerves or suspense without hitting readers over the head (read Stephen King or Karin Slaughter), and in one imaginative scene at a KC baseball game, someone does get hit over the head! It’s too ham-fisted. The use of “heart beating, heart hammering, heart leaping, heart pounding, heart stopping, heart plummeting, heart breaking, heart thundering,” ad nauseum to evoke stress, excitement, etc. just evokes tedium, as does the author’s mindset of “people-won’t-get-it-if-I-don’t-spell-everything out.” That’s okay for middle schoolers, a good audience for this title, which will broaden the appeal of quantum computing to an impressionable readership.
~MG Milbrodt for IndieReader