Book Review: The Practice Effect

Book Name: The Practice Effect
Author: David Brin
First Published: 1984

David Brin is an American scientist and writer of hard science fiction novels. His work have been New York Times Bestsellers and he has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Campbell awards. Brin was born in Glendale, California. He graduated from the California Institute of Technology with a degree in astrophysics. He followed this with a master of science in applied physics and a doctorate of Philosophy in Space Science from the University of California, San Diego. He currently lives in Southern California with his children.

The Practice Effect begins when scientist Dennis Nuel is barred from access to the Zievatron Project by fellow scientist and rival, Bernald Brady. Not only is Brady jealous of Nuel as a scientist, but there is a love triangle between the three that complicates their relationship. The Zievatron is a device that allows access to parallel worlds, a sort of portal into alternative realities. When the machine is activated and travels to an alternate reality, the return mechanism malfunctions. The two scientists realize that only Dennis has the skills to fix the machine. The only issue is that he must go into the alternate world in order to do this and retrieve the project.

Dennis follows the Zievatron into a parallel universe, where he is still on Earth, but in a world with significant differences from the one that he has left. The local inhabitants, a people known as the Coylians, speak English, but their society is a far cry from the modern day. It is more medieval with a structured class system. Gradually, Dennis learns that this society is built on a fundamental change of the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Instead of objects being created to show their full potential and then gradually decaying over time as is normal in our reality, in this world objects only need to have a crude base. As the items are concentrated on by human thought, they are “practiced” and physically improved over time. Thus, a rough hewn stick can be practiced into a sword. A crude homespun garment gradually becomes a fine silk suit. The class system evolved so that the wealthy and privileged use the under classes to practice their goods into a beautiful and complex perfection.

Dennis’ arrive causes a stir because he not only has the ability to make items that work at the start and with practice become wondrous, but he uses his knowledge of technology from his own world to create things that the natives have never seen before. He becomes known as a “wizard” and falls under the attention of a local Baron named Kremer.

As he slowly puts together the materials that he needs to repair the zievatron and return to his home, he is pulled into the politics of this alternate world and finds himself pitted against Baron Kremer, who not only wishes to rule the world, but has plans to use Dennis for his own ends. Dennis must use his knowledge of science from our world and combine it with the strange practice effect to stop the Baron, repair the zievatron, and return to his home.

The Practice Effect Book CoverAuthor David Brin has written novels that are certainly more famous than The Practice Effect. The Postman was made into a movie starring Kevin Costner and his Uplift novels have won numerous awards. His current writing is far and above a better level of craftsmanship than in this early work. While this novel had a poor plot, weak characterizations, and unremarkable romantic relationships that were soon forgotten, the creation of this alternate world where the laws of nature are different and the physical and social ramifications of this are shown in a delightful and unique way. This is a clear forerunner to his development of science to propel the plot in his later novels. The concept of the practice effect itself makes this novel one that you should take a look at in addition to Brin’s other more well known works. To me it was as if the world was a character all unto itself. I kept wanting to see more of how the practice effect changed the lives of these people. Although I read this novel many years ago, I have never forgotten it and I feel it is a work that needs to be called attention to. Otherwise, you might miss out on a truly unique science fiction experience.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Practice Effect”

  1. great review! The cover of the book is really interesting. It looks more like a cover they would design for a female author. It’s a fact, gender makes a difference in cover design….I saw something about this the other day.

    1. This is the first edition cover, the one that own in my personal library in fact. I agree that it has a soft, almost feminine look. The story does have a strong female lead and it has medieval qualities to it, although it is science fiction.

      Thanks for stopping by, Victoria. 🙂

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