Friday, February 20, 2009

Upcoming Book Review: Fragment

Fragment is the debut scientific thriller of Warren Fahy (pronounced Fay-Hee) that follows in the tradition of Michael Crichton. The prose is brisk yet unremarkable, but the book has a single, shining ace in the hole: imagination.

The premise: humans have (often) precipitated harsh ecological disasters by introducing foreign species to stable ecosystems. But what if an isolated ecosystem was discovered that was so alien and so deadly that, should it be introduced to any other ecosystem on the planet, would eradicate all other forms of life? And, of course, such a place is discovered while filming for a reality television show. I know what you're thinking too, that this sounds both lame and cliche. But it's not. Fahy makes it both clever and cool.

For instance, most of the animals discovered on the island are descendants of the mantis shrimp, a fascinating animal with several unique features, such as the most advanced eyes in the animal kingdom (they're able to detect colors the human eye can't see, for instance) and claws that pack the punch of a 22. caliber bullet. They hit so hard that Australian divers have dubbed them "thumb-splitters". Did I mention they're beautiful? They are:

Descendants of the Mantis Shrimp aren't the only creatures on the island - there are several others, each of them oozing with both creativity and lethality, from ant to behemoth. My personal favorite animal was the Spiger, which is exactly like it sounds: spider meets tiger, with a little mantis shrimp flavor tossed in for good measure.

However, the book isn't without flaws - despite an interesting prologue and short introduction to the island, the plot merely trudges along for the first fifty or so pages. The author relies on the compelling nature of the book's subject to keep readers interested in , but surprisingly poignant developments in character will keep them hooked for the conclusion.

My other, very minor gripe with the book was its use of esoteric science and rock climbing lingo. Though I don't have a science background, I do enjoy reading books about science, and I needed to consult the web to understand parts of the book. I do rock climb, so the lingo there didn't confuse me, but words like "chimneyed", "dynoed" and "bouldered" may confuse others. The scientific ideas presented aren't incredibly complex, but none of them are toned down, which might will put off some readers as much as it puts on others.

Still, the book's main strength, a surprisingly unique and powerful story, far overcomes its comparatively minor flaws. The plot briskly leaps from survival to an incredible ending I don't dare spoil, and the more you read, the better it gets. By the end I may or may not have had a tear in my eyes. Run-of-the-mill scientific thriller this is not. Highly recommended.

Fragment is slated for release on June 16th, 2009.

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