I seldom read novels; in fact, I almost never read novels. I am too easily disappointed and have found myself underwhelmed by some of the most celebrated titles like Melville‘s “The Moby Dick,” Kurt Vonnegut‘s “Cat’s Cradle,” and even Gabriel Garcia Márquez‘s “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” I hated F. Scott Fitzgerald‘s “The Great Gatsby.” It’s not that any of those novels are bad – it’s just that they’d leave me feeling a bit empty, like I just spent a few hours of my life reading something that didn’t do much in terms of teaching me anything important; they didn’t expand my horizons.
To be fair, I did stumble upon a few novels I absolutely loved. Like Bulgakov‘s “Master and Margarita,” most of Dostoevsky‘s novels and a few of Ernest Hemingway‘s. My favorite novels are the ones that I grow attached to as I read them and wish they would continue as I reach the end. I’m not sure where the attachment to the novel emanates from, but I suspect it’s not the story plot itself. More likely I think, it may come from the sense of communion with the author who, through his/her prose shares a path of discovery, leads me to ponder something I haven’t thought about before, or consider certain things from a new and different perspective. The attachment comes from enjoying the time shared with an intellect or spirituality that enriches my own experience, rather than merely entertaining me with a good story.
Well, this is what I got in spades from Trygve E. Wighdal. I recently read his novel Tycho Brahe Secret, a book that I don’t quite even know how to describe. It is a work of science fiction, a story set in 2048, about the planetary clash between dark diabolical force set on total control, enslavement and destruction of humanity orchestrated by a tech mogul Winston Varga. Opposed to Varga’s sinister plan is the chosen one, a 14-year old cypher-punk girl, Nastassia Bonnet, helped by a small group of individuals armed with clarity of purpose, intellectual vigor, hacking skills and a confluence of mystical forces and connections spanning continents and centuries. The 415 page book reads like a mashup of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, the Avatar, and perhaps even Star Wars, with the stunning prologue that resurrects the earth personified, but I’d rather not spoil the novel it by giving away the ending.
Wighdal’s prose is particularly powerful, ranging from colloquial and even vulgar to beautiful to sublime – as appropriate to the setting. More importantly, the prose is convincing: where the story plot centers around computer hacking, the reader gets the impression that the novel was written by a well-versed hacker; where it touches on history, like it was written by a historian of science to the point that I couldn’t resist looking up whether this Tycho Brahe was an actual person – he was! And his scientific discoveries, relevant to the story plot were masterfully woven into Wighdal’s novel. Incidentally, Brahe was also a mentor to one of the most important and perhaps most underrated contributors to western science, Johannes Kepler. Indeed, it is perhaps precisely the author’s ability to tell his story in a convincing way that makes a great novel. As Hemingway put it, “a good writer should know as near everything as possible.” In reading Wighdal, you get the sense that he knows very close to everything.
I should mention that there was one thing about the novel that I didn’t sit well with me in that it didn’t have a happy ending. The ending is stunning – not unhappy, but stunning. The world is saved, but… Call me glib, but I do like my Holywood-style happy endings with victorious protagonist walking into the sunset… But apart for that personal preference, Tycho Brahe Secret is a great novel and an enjoyable read. I certainly look forward to more titles from Mr. Wighdal.