Thursday, December 06, 2007

New Review of Here, Eyeball This!

The December 2007 issue of the American Scientific Affiliation's Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith contains this review of my novel Here, Eyeball This!

HERE, EYEBALL THIS! by David Heddle. Saga Books, 2005. 295 pages. Paperback. ISBN 1-894936-37-X.

Reviewed by George L. Murphy, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Akron, OH

David Heddle, who received his Ph.D. in physics from Carnegie Mellon, has written this novel about the first two years of the graduate program in physics at that institution. In the acknowledgements he states that the work is entirely fictional, but his familiarity with Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Mellon campus give it a very real air.

How realistic is the picture of graduate study in physics? A lot has changed since I was in the position of Heddle’s main character, Aaron Dern, at a different university over forty years ago. The hot topics in physics are of course different and there are a lot more foreign students in American graduate programs in the field than there were back then. But some things don’t change. The picture of a student who at first is somewhat intimidated by the fact that all his fellow first year students seem to have much better preparation than he does, only to find out where he stands after the first exams, was very familiar to me.

There is a current of religious discussion running through the book. It doesn’t dominate the story but does play an important role in subtle ways. Not surprisingly, much of this discussion has to do with the anthropic coincidences and the possible implications of them for design arguments. The setting of those discussions within the story allows the author to present them as more than purely scientific, or meta-scientific, deductions. The comment of one professor that “everything matters” could be simply an abstract statement about a holistic view of the world, but it takes on added force for Aaron when he is confronted with an ethical decision on the eve of the qualifying exam.

Aaron’s encounter with a couple of fundamentalists bent on converting him and the way another student calls the bluff of an anti-Christian professor in a comparative religions class broadens the religious picture. It might have been helpful, however, if those chapters could have been connected a bit more with the scientific themes of the book.

The title of the book is eye-catching but it’s natural to wonder what in the world it has to do with physics. Suffice it to say that it has to do with some crude humor of one of the students. Heddle’s characters generally talk the way real people talk and not in the prissy way that characterizes some “Christian fiction.”

Some readers may wonder if the religious arguments in the novel are leading them to a kind of altar call in the last chapter. If so, they will be surprised and sobered to find themselves confronted instead by an event that, in light of those arguments, poses the question of theodicy in a stark fashion. There is a great deal in the novel besides physics and religion – grad student parties, personal relationships, visits to the families of other students, and other aspects of real life. At times it may seem to meander. But when one finishes the book and looks back at the whole story, one sees a narrative that poses some tough basic questions and isn’t content with easy answers. It’s an interesting and helpful complement to the more familiar types of non-fictional work on religion and

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