RMC professor blends science and fiction in ‘Life at the Precipice’

Photo by Jessica Foley/Kingstonist.

Editorial note: Next in our continuing reviews of books by local author series, Jessica reads ‘Life at the Precipice.’ Thank you to author R.F Vincent for providing this book free of charge to facilitate this article.

In Life at the Precipice, RMC professor R.F. Vincent creates a curious and fantastic tale that blends science and fiction with a very colourful cast of characters.

The book has a unique format – from the first page, the reader is convinced it’s written by the main character, Travis Sivert.

Sivert, an air navigator with a PhD in physics who is struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, has been researching a phenomenon on Vancouver Island, and the book details his travel to a relatively undocumented location called The Segway.

Once he finds this isolated community, he conducts interviews with the residents and gathers details on the local lake that seems to rise and fall with seismic activity in the area. And, it’s rumoured that a sea creature lives there.

A CP-140 Aurora aircraft flies by Mount Rainier in the State of Washington, USA. Photo by DND via the Canadian Encyclopedia.

Vincent, a professor of Physics and Space Science at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), who was an Air Navigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force in what he calls a “previous career,” said the premise for this book came to him while logging a few thousand hours on the CP-140 Aurora long-range maritime patrol aircraft. Not surprisingly, this is the same aircraft that Sivert was on when he made a decision that influenced the rest of his life.

“Without giving too much away, the source of the main character’s PTSD involves an incident onboard the Aurora. The premise came to me while flying on the aircraft… ‘What if this happened during a mission?’ In the book it does happen. I leave that for the reader to discover,” he shared with Kingstonist.

“During my Aurora days, I was based in Comox, British Columbia, and loved my time there. I placed The Segway amidst the rugged beauty of central Vancouver Island because of my fond memories of the area. The story combines real events and popular science with surreal aspects of a seemingly impossible town populated by what has been described as a ‘wonderfully bizarre array of quirky characters’.”

Not only is the lake a curious feature, the town itself is a geologic marvel. Isolated by rock slides, The Segway exists only in Vincent’s imagination, despite the realistic feel it has in the story.

“The Segway is something I made up. I have a background in geology, so I make it seem scientifically feasible in the book. Many readers assume that such an anomaly exists,” he stated.

“The physical precipice adjacent to the town is representative of the mental precipice that Travis deals with every day, while the community’s isolation is symbolic of how he is emotionally cut off from the world. Visiting The Segway and interacting with the residents is a means by which Travis copes with the trauma from his past.”

The residents of the Segway each have an interesting, and sometimes wild, story of how they came to live there. Throughout the book, Sivert interviews each resident, including one who lives in a tree, and through their stories learns much about their community and himself.

“The characters were all born from my imagination. The thirty residents of The Segway are truly a unique group, all with their quirks, all with a compelling reason for being in The Segway,” Vincent detailed. “Every person in the town is broken in some way, much like Travis, but together they form a strong and caring community.”

Author and RMC Professor R.F. Vincent. Photo via his author website.

Vincent said when he sat down to write Life at the Precipice, he wanted to create something out of the ordinary. The story takes place in 2003, the same year he first conceived the novel. An editor was interested in his concept and outline and asked to see the entire story. But, Vincent knew he couldn’t complete the book in the six-month timeline while also working on his PhD.

“When I finished the novel a few years later, the editor was no longer at the publishing house. The book sat on the shelf for quite a few years as I pursued my academic career, but eventually I blew the proverbial dust off the manuscript and decided to rediscover The Segway. It took a few re-writes to get the right blend of science, intrigue, character development, and humour, but it essentially followed the original outline.”

When asked “what’s next?”, Vincent shared that he is in the process of publishing a new novel, The Girl on the Bridge.

“My editor describes it as ‘sophisticated, heartfelt, funny, well-plotted, and beautifully written,’ so I’m very excited about releasing it in the next few months,” he shared.

Life at the Precipice was published last year, and won the 2023 BiBA (best indie book award). The book has been long-listed for the 2024 Leacock Medal Award.

Readers who enjoy some science with their fiction, or who are interested in a very varied collection of supporting characters, will find all that and more in the pages of Life at the Precipice.

Vincent said that Novel Idea and Books on Main stock his book, and it is also available online. Find more details on both the novel and the author at www.rfvincent.ca.

Jessica Foley is the Assistant Editor and Lead Content Writer at Kingstonist, and is a passionate reader. When time allows, Jessica reads books written by local authors and offers Kingstonist readers her own take on a book review, with an overview of the storyline, some insights from the local authors, and her thoughts on what she’s just read. To submit ideas on local books/authors for Jessica to consider, email her at [email protected].

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