ROLLA, MO—A reading of Gabriel Fournier's The Eclipse Of Infinity reveals that the new science-fiction novel makes more than 80 separate references to "quantum flux," a vaguely defined force the author uses to advance the plot, resolve conflict as needed, and account for dozens of glaring inconsistencies.

The strange force is used to explain everything from time travel to why everyone in the novel can understand aliens.

"I'm really excited about this latest book—there's action, adventure, drama, and a little bit of something for everyone," said Fournier, who decided to introduce the narrative device after realizing that the galactic ambassador vaporized in chapter two needed to be alive a lot longer. "And, of course, there's something I call quantum flux, which is like the binding force behind everything in the universe. Plus, it can cause time travel. And it's an energy source, too."

In Fournier's novel, the idea that particles of energy can appear suddenly out of nowhere is used to explain events that might otherwise seem random, such as how a starship achieves light speed despite the total destruction of its engines in battle, why a loyal first officer suddenly decides to spy on behalf of the aliens who murdered his family, and what became of the security captain whose Southern accent was getting annoying to work with.

"This is a huge oversimplification, but you can think of it as The Matrix times a million," Fournier said. "I use quantum flux to explore crucial questions about the nature of our universe, but also to probe basic human experiences we can all relate to. In my novel, as in life, sometimes things don't quite work out the way you planned."

The book's cover depicts Quantum Flux in the vacuum of deep space, a phenomenon readers later learn can be harnessed to open wormholes or provide eternal youth.

At the beginning of The Eclipse Of Infinity, a catastrophic quantum flux event on a nearby moon is threatening to destroy the planet Magnus 9. When the planet's shields suddenly become inoperable due to a quantum flux surge, the inhabitants frantically evacuate. At the end of the first chapter, the novel's protagonist, Cutter Van Dusen, clutches the hand of his dying mother, who before succumbing to quantum flux poisoning tells her son that an oracle has chosen him to travel back in time through a quantum flux rupture and save the planet by harnessing the power of a strange, mysterious force known as "quantum flux."

Though the storytelling device provided Fournier with what seemed like an endlessly flexible narrative structure, the author acknowledged that he still suffered from writer's block on at least one occasion.

"I had written myself into a corner," said Fournier, who recalled sitting for weeks just staring at the words "Chapter 12: Quantum Flux" on an otherwise blank computer screen. "Then out of nowhere, this really amazing twist came to me. I don't want to give it away, but if you've read carefully up to that point, it makes perfect sense."

According to Fournier, the rest of the novel—in which, on average, quantum flux is invoked every two pages to negate the effects of earlier quantum flux incidents—just seemed to flow from there.

"It was one of those rare moments when I was writing without any effort at all," said Fournier, who made use of quantum flux to iron out the remaining wrinkles in his plot, finding in it an unexpected justification for why Cutter's nemesis, Mal-Dag Par, abruptly switches gender for three chapters. "It's almost as if I were possessed by some kind of powerful unseen force or something."

Fournier told reporters that The Eclipse Of Infinity is part of a trilogy, the second book of which, Denizens Of Flux, will begin with a sudden fluxquake that ties up several of the first novel's loose ends.

The author admitted he wasn't entirely sure yet how the final book in the series, A Flux Quantum, would end.

"I'm giving it a lot of thought," said Fournier, who hinted that he has been toying with some cosmological theories that suggest different versions of his storyline could exist in multiple parallel universes. "I want to make sure that readers who've stuck with me through all three novels get the payoff they deserve."

In the meantime, Fournier is at work on an old-fashioned Western about a rugged band of pioneers who make their way across the unforgiving prairie only to find a fearsome enemy lying in wait—a tribe of Indians who wield a strange and ancient power the white men call "Cherokee flux."