- Steven Gould
2008’s Jumper was a textbook example of a smart book being turned into a dumb movie. Still, it’s easy to see why it wasn’t adapted for the screen exactly as written: The original 1992 novel Jumper is extremely process-oriented, and fairly light on plot. It follows a teenager named David who discovers, in extremis, that he can teleport; from there, it methodically follows him through the process of experimenting with his power, building a remote hideaway, recovering from abuse, establishing an independent life, and forming a meaningful relationship. It’s so mundanely detailed, it sometimes reads like a how-to manual for other theoretical teen teleporters with PTSD. The 2004 sequel, Reflex, is significantly more gripping and plot-focused, as David is captured and conditioned by powerful, amoral agents, while his wife, Millie, develops her own ability to teleport and works to rescue him.
The series’ third installment, Impulse, has an even more traditional structure for a modern YA novel: It’s about David and Millie’s teenage daughter Millicent (Cent for short) discovering that she, too, can teleport, and using her new ability to fight the forces that want to catch and control her family. It’s also about her first tentative attempts at going to a regular school after a lifetime of homeschooling mandated by her vulnerability to capture. But Gould still has his old distinctive voice, and his usual interest in methodology: Amid scenes of Cent hesitantly making friends and dealing with bullies, he scatters her closely realized experiments with velocity control, which effectively give her a new superpower. Meanwhile, her parents roam the globe at will, teleporting supplies past warlords’ barricades and rescuing people from natural disasters. As the book’s focus veers between issues as large as global social inequity and as small as Cent’s snowboarding hobby, Gould holds it all together by treating it all the same, from an unemotional, observational distance.
That removed voice often makes it hard to tell why Cent does some of the more outré things she does; she begins the book as a powerless, isolated, frustrated girl, and discovering her gift presumably emboldens her to the point where she makes remarkably unwise choices, like teleporting out to pick up a fresh, hot bento-box lunch, then walking into her school cafeteria with it still steaming. Or repeatedly teleporting in front of bullies or the school douchebag, in spite of the obvious danger of exposure. Gould rarely explains what she’s thinking, and leaves readers to fill in the details and sometimes boggle at the casual entitlement that apparently comes with power. (The title is likely a clue to Cent’s lack of planning in many situations.)
But that same smug use of power gives Impulse its subtlest moments, in the metaphor about a teenager realizing for the first time that her parents, in spite of all their attempts, can’t own or control her. The book’s greatest strengths come from the confrontations between Cent and the traumatized, paranoid David, who generally ends arguments with his daughter by teleporting away. Once she also has the freedom of escape and avoidance, he’s forced to come to terms with her as a person. This thread weaves throughout a decent thriller story about the people hunting David and Millie, the teen-hero story as Cent deals with problems at her school in increasingly clever ways, and the ongoing story of how David and Millie quietly use their abilities make the world a better place. And to top it all off, it feels a bit like a class reunion, as fans of the original books get to check in on the damaged protagonists of the first two books and see how they’re progressing. Impulse is half a dozen books in one, and while some of them are more familiar than others, they’re all enjoyably thought-through.