Monday, April 11, 2011

The Omega Theory: Everything Is Information

What if the universe is nothing more than an incredibly intricate computer program? Sounds a bit Matrix-y, yeah? But apparently famed physicist John Archibald Wheeler theorized this "It From Bit" idea -- that literally everything in the universe could be described with 'yes' or 'no' binary choices -- near the end of his career. And it's an idea still being kicked around in some scientific circles. This It From Bit theory is the basis for Mark Alpert's taut, fast-paced scientific thriller The Omega Theory. Only Alpert poses the question: If the universe is a computer program, what could cause it to crash?

As our thriller opens, Columbia University science historian David Swift and his wife, physicist Monique Reynolds, are opening a Physicists for Peace conference in New York City. But just before Swift gives his keynote, the news arrives that Iran has just tested a nuclear weapon. Meanwhile, David and Monique's adopted autistic son Michael is kidnapped by some religious nut-jobs who are after a secret stored in his head.

We soon learn, though, that the nuclear test may not be quite what it seems. And with the help of the FBI and a mysterious Israeli physicist and computer scientist, David and Monique race through the back alleys and secret tunnels of the Old City of Jerusalem to the deserts of Turkmenistan to try to rescue Michael and find the truth about a dastardly plot to destroy the universe.

Along the way, Alpert gives us some fascinating tidbits about everything from quantum computing to particle physics to code-breaking to the always-interesting science vs. religion debate. In fact, Alpert primes the pump with a quote from Albert Einstein to kick off the novel: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

The Omega Theory is the second book in Alpert's David Swift series, and it's everything the first book in the series, Final Theory, should've been. I'd even go so far as to recommend skipping the first book and starting with this one. You'll pick up the gist of the first one along the way. Four stars for The Omega Theory -- it's a fantastic read for science-based thriller fans!


  1. I think I read Final Theory years ago but can't remember much of it. I was reading a lot of science/esoteric thrillers at the time. I didn't bother reading anything else by him, but if you say this is much better, well then, I'll have to go and search this one out, right?

  2. I was talking to some students about the It From Bit theory last week. This looks like a great book and I'll have to look for a copy!

  3. @chasingbawa - It's much, much better than Final Theory - it's almost hard to believe it's the same writer. Whereas Final Theory definitely read like a first novel, this one's much more polished.

    @petekarnas - It was hard to know how "accepted" or really discussed It From Bit is just from the book. But it's an interesting idea - and a good one to frame a thriller around!

  4. This sounds good. I'll have to get my hands on in and my nose between its pages this year. Thanks for the recommendation.