Publisher: William Morrow (August 4, 2020)
Praise for UNIVERSE OF TWO
“Rarely does historical fiction get everything so right as Universe of Two: compelling characters, faithful detail, a story packed with unexpected twists, and a sure, authentic voice that never wavers. In this novel of the dawn of the atomic age and its profound consequences, Stephen Kiernan leads us along a journey of conscience as complex and infinite as the science itself.” —Beatriz Williams, New York Times bestselling author of The Golden Hour
“Stephen Kiernan has pulled off the nearly impossible, reminding us by wrapping a war story in a love story that although we hold the power for our own extinction, we also have the power to redeem, heal, and save. The most tender, terrifying, relevant book you’ll read this year.” —Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Lost Family
“Based loosely on the life of mathematician and organ-maker Charles B. Fisk, this fascinating novel delves into the guilt and remorse that wracked him for his part in the development of the atomic bomb. . . . The two main characters are complex and flawed, but when they come together, their world is in harmony.” —Library Journal
“Kiernan recreates the zeitgeist of America leading up to the atomic bomb on a national and personal level: the eager anticipation of wartime’s end, the grimly fascinating science, and the growing sense of guilt and dread. Simultaneously tender and hard-hitting, this riveting story offers much to reflect upon.” —Booklist
"Universe of Two skillfully educates, entertains and enlightens as great historical fiction should . . . . Masterfully researched and exquisitely told." —The Patriot Ledger
Graduating from Harvard at the height of World War II, brilliant mathematician Charlie Fish is assigned to the Manhattan Project. Working with some of the age’s greatest scientific minds, including J. Robert Oppenheimer, Enrico Fermi, and Leo Szilard, Charlie is assigned the task of designing and building the detonator of the atomic bomb.
As he performs that work Charlie suffers a crisis of conscience, which his wife, Brenda—unaware of the true nature of Charlie’s top-secret task—mistakes as self-doubt. She urges him to set aside his qualms and continue. Once the bombs strike Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the feelings of culpability devastate him and Brenda.
At the war’s end, Charlie receives a scholarship to pursue a PhD in physics at Stanford—an opportunity he and Brenda hope will allow them a fresh start. But the past proves inescapable. All any of his new colleagues can talk about is the bomb, and what greater atomic weapons might be on the horizon. Haunted by guilt, Charlie and Brenda leave Stanford and decide to dedicate the rest of their lives to making amends for the evil he helped to birth into the world.
Based on the life of the actual mathematician Charles B. Fisk, Universe of Two combines riveting historical drama with a poignant love story. Stephen Kiernan has conjured a remarkable account of two people struggling to heal their consciences and find peace in a world forever changed.
Charlie sharing his guilt with Brenda—Page 460-462
The next morning Brenda came into the kitchen and Charlie was writing again. “The great American novel?” she asked.
“A letter to Giles.” He turned the page over, tucking it into a manila folder. “How is he doing?”
“I’m writing to him, as you see. He hasn’t received this yet, much less replied.”
Brenda had been on her way to the coffee, but instead she pulled back a chair to sit beside him. “I am not the enemy, Charlie.”
He put down his pen. “Of course you aren’t.”
“What is upsetting you today?”
“You mean besides the Gibraltar of guilt I’m carrying around?”
“Plenty of people consider what you did heroic. That’s why we’re here.”
“I was called a hero yesterday,” Charlie said. “In front of a whole class.”
“Well isn’t that sw–”
“I could have throttled him.” Charlie shook his head. “What I did was maybe –possibly, theoretically -- necessary. No more than that. Some people were excited by the difficulty of the task, but for most of us, we did our part only because it was needed.”
“But Charlie, you --”
“We faced no enemy. Nobody was shooting at us. I saw not one person die. Hardly heroic. In fact you could argue that making the bomb – my bomb, my damned bomb – was the consummate cowardice. I could not have been safer, sitting by your bed in the Santa Fe hospital, while the people of Hiroshima were getting ready for work or laboring in the fields or on their way to school.”
“You just interrupted me twice.”
“I –” Charlie caught himself. “So I did.”
She took his hand. “You shush now. You had a small part in a giant victory, which is all any soldier does. You helped end the war, which is good for America and Japan.” “But the carnage.”
“Do you wish we were still fighting today? That men your age were throwing themselves on some beach three thousand miles from here? Or that Japanese men were defending it to the death, however futile that was?”
“Of course not.”
“Can you imagine the rage of every mother and father who lost a child in the invasion, if they found out later that we had the bomb and did not use it?”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Enough of this guilt. Those parents love you. They don’t even know your name, but they love you with their whole hearts. Now,” she said, standing, “I am going to make us some breakfast, and you are going to eat it.”
He bowed his head. “All right.”
“And then,” she said, “you are going to go talk to someone, some senior person, about how Stanford University can take better care of this excellent man and famous student.”
Copyright © 2020 by Stephen P. Kiernan
As a journalist and novelist, Stephen P. Kiernan has published nearly four million words. His newspaper work garnered more than forty awards — including the George Polk Award and the Scripps Howard Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment.
Stephen’s newest novel, UNIVERSE OF TWO, will be out May 5, 2020. He is also author of the novels THE CURIOSITY (now in television series development), THE BAKER'S SECRET (a regional Indie bestseller), and THE HUMMINGBIRD. He has also written two nonfiction books, LAST RIGHTS and AUTHENTIC PATRIOTISM. His work has been translated into many languages.
Stephen was born in Newtonville, NY the sixth of seven children. A graduate of Middlebury College, he received a Master of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has chaired the board of the Young Writers Project, served on the Vermont Legislative Committee on Pain and Palliative Care, and served on the advisory board of the New Hampshire Palliative Care Initiative. He has spoken and consulted around the country about hospice, palliative care and advance directives.
A performer on the guitar since he was ten years old, Stephen has recorded 3 CDs of solo instrumentals, and composed music for dance, the stage and documentary films.
He lives in Vermont with his two amazing sons.