“Burnished Bridge” is a short novella, but it is big on ideas. In fact, anyone who has read Ray Melnik’s previous novels “The Room” and “To Your Own Self Be True” knows Melnik takes ground-breaking scientific theories and creates impressive, often mind-blowing plots, but not sheerly for the technological magic or special effects, but to explore and develop his characters. Melnik is first and foremost a romantic and a student of the human character, and secondly, a writer of science fiction. His use of science is always integral to the plot and the characters, enhancing and illuminating the situations. If “Sci-Fi Romance” is not already considered a legitimate literary genre, Melnik is well on his way to creating it.
Readers of Melnik’s previous novels will find some cameo appearances of recognizable characters in “Burnished Bridge” but the novella really stands on its own. At its center is Alex Dael, a scientist employed at SciLab, who for seven years has been working on the Glint Project, a new technology that will allow articles to be teleported to other locations. This amazing technology opens up impressive possibilities when a wormhole is discovered in space, through which is found another planet believed to be able to sustain life. Alex and his partner, Elina, instantly have the idea that they will use Glint to teleport objects to the newly discovered planet, including their orangutan, Beatrice. The journey to the distant planet, by using Glint, will only take about 140 minutes as opposed to 40,000 years with a spaceship.
If you’re not into science, don’t worry. Melnik takes it easy on the technical details so the plot is easy to follow, and as I said earlier, the novella is primarily a love story. Alex has recently met a young woman named Janine at a local deli, and since they both go there for lunch each day, they develop a relationship. The problem is that she is much younger than Alex, and she has a boyfriend already. Worse, Alex witnesses her boyfriend mistreat her, but she insists on remaining with him, leaving Alex in a situation he finds unbearable since he cannot be with her.
Torn inside by the love he cannot have, Alex makes a decision that is both nearly unbelievable because of its uncertainty, and yet completely gripping. As occurs in Melnik’s previous novels, science, or rather the mysteries of the universe, intervene to bring about unexpected yet satisfying results in a way I doubt any reader can predict. At the heart of “Burnished Bridge” is the belief that the universe itself continues to evolve and create itself, and that life, and humans, not only evolve but help in that creation. As the back cover states, “Alex believes that because of us, the cosmos comes to know itself. This time it returns the favor.”
Melnik’s books are not big on religious beliefs, but neither are they cold as scientific fact is often interpreted. Instead, the use of scientific theories only adds to the magic, the miracle, and the wonder of everything. The incredible size, power, and unknowable aspects of the universe are beyond the capacity of the human mind to understand, and yet, the universe appears friendly, at least to those who hold love within them. In the novella’s prologue, Melnik quotes Carl Sagan, who sums this situation up by saying, “For small creatures such as we the vastness is bearable only through love.” I do not know enough about science to determine whether Melnik is correct about how the universe functions, but the universe he envisions is one I hope is real.
If readers will have any disappointment in this book, it is only that it is so short, but Melnik is currently working on his fourth novel, one in which he promises to tie together these first three works. I know his fans will eagerly anticipate it.