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Costigan's Needle

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I could make this a very short review and say that Costigan's Needle has an interesting premise but is hampered by poor execution. I feel compelled to say more than that though, since ReAnimus Press has been kind enough to provide me with free review copies of several e-books. It's been at least a couple of weeks since I finished it, but I've been struggling to think of something positive, or at least interesting, to say about it. The style is outdated, and so are most of the characterizations, with a couple of exceptions. Even though Dr. Winfield Costigan's name is in the title he isn't the major focus of the story. That would be Devan Traylor, president of Inland Electronics in Chicago. The story is told in third person, but from Traylor's perspective. It might have been a more interesting book in first person, but this was Sohl's first novel, and first person narrative is supposedly the hardest to master.

The "Needle" has been invented (or accidentally discovered?) by Dr. Costigan. An acquaintance who knows several men on Inland's board of directors brings it to their attention, and Traylor is called back from a long-delayed Florida vacation to hear the proposal. I'm still not sure if Costigan knew exactly what his device did, either the how or the why, or whether he purposely withheld information so as not to scare off investors. I suppose I'll have to venture a bit into spoiler territory to explain that, but it can't be helped. As can be seen in the cover illustration above, if a man puts his arm through the Needle's eye, any inanimate material, such as his clothing, watch, etc, comes through the other side, but his hand and arm seem to disappear. From the perspective of the other side of the device, one can see a cross-section of the arm or other body member that is still within the confines of the eye. Costigan is promoting the device as a tool for medical diagnosis. If a doctor can see inside the body of his patient he would have a much better chance of diagnosing illness and recommending treatment. When I first read this section I couldn't help but think of an MRI, but that technology wasn't viable until almost twenty years after this book. Major difference though...where does the rest of the body go on the other side of the Needle?

Inland's board approves an investment for further research into the device, and the "exorbitant" amount of one million dollars is allocated. That would be just a drop in the bucket for any similar medical or electronic research today, but Sohl implies it is almost unheard of for that time. Another anomaly is that almost every character is a smoker, and they all talk about it all the time too. Along with Traylor, the only other character I felt was realistically portrayed was Betty Peredge, an assistant to Costigan once his Inland research project is in full swing. She is married, or at least says she is, but her husband never enters the story. She is presented as a "super-mom" would be today, independent and able to have a career, but also devoted to her family. That independent streak comes into play later.

A full-sized Needle, with an eye large enough for a man to walk into, is constructed inside what had been an abandoned factory. One Inland employee draws the short straw, and is the first to go into the eye. Trouble is, he never returns. It seems Costigan has created a doorway into another space, either an alternate dimension, an alternate universe, or possibly another time. After a series of attempts to enter the eye but not completely go through it has failed, with several more persons vanished, something else happens "accidentally," although I won't spoil that part of it. The result of the accident causes everyone within a hundred yards or so of the Needle to be transported to the other side, wherever (or whenever) that may be.

This is when I thought the book might start to get interesting, but it never fully develops the concept of what has happened and how the people react to it. I suppose certain things might have seemed risqué in 1953, for instance the fact that everyone arrives in that other space completely nude. But there is no graphic content following up on that, it's all handled discreetly. Stuff just sort of happens, it's taken for granted, and they go on with their lives. Betty's independent streak does assert itself here. Even though they don't know if it is possible to get back to their Chicago, she seems to think it is a forgone conclusion they are there to stay, that it is inevitable that she and Traylor will be a couple, and I can't recall a mention of either of their families after that. Just another example of how things happen without explanation, like the science of the Needle itself. The book ends unexpectedly, with nothing resolved. Sohl might have thought he would continue with the story later, but that never happened, or else he felt ending it the way he did would keep the reader pondering what was going to happen next. Not for me, though. I was disappointed with such an abrupt end. Even though the e-book is just $3.99, I can't recommend anyone else waste their time and money on it, although I suppose something I have said might pique someone's interest enough to give it a try at that price.

 

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Author
Jerry Sohl

Published
1953

Available from ReAnimus Press