My Book Shelf: 'Fragment' Lost island SF/action novel plays in Michael Crichton sandbox
I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that Warren Fahy is a big fan of Michael Crichton.
It's hard to work in the genre of speculative science-based thrillers these days without having to deal with the huge shadow that Crichton, and "Jurassic Park" in particular, cast over the entire field. There's even a similarity in the way Fahy structures his book, cutting from cast member to cast member, chapter to chapter, keeping things short and punchy. All that really means is that Fahy's book should seem familiar to summer beach readers, and it certainly deserves a spot in the shoulder bags of anyone who likes this sort of thing, as it delivers on an intriguing premise and proves to be a very quick and engaging read overall.
Henders Island is Fahy's big idea in the book, a small volcanic rim island in the middle of the Pacific that was isolated hundreds of thousands of years ago, at a point when evolution was at a particularly volatile crossroads. As a result of that isolation, life on Henders Island has developed along a totally different road from life everywhere else on the planet, making the island a window into what our world might have been if things had zigged instead of zagged. It's a fun set-up that gives Fahy (and his characters, who are basically mouthpieces designed to handle opposite ends of the arguments that Fahy wants to explore) room to wrestle with notions of how evolution really works, and why some characteristics have survived while others have vanished from the planet altogether.
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The book's plot lurches into motion when a reality show about a young hot scientific crew on a boat trip around the world accidentally stops on this island that has remained untouched and pristine, with the exception of a brief stop by a mapmaking team led by a guy named Henders (hence the name) a few hundred years ago. The ecosystem on Henders Island is ferociously competitive, to the point where nothing from the outside world is equipped to survive on it. The artwork I used to illustrate this article is from a scene where the science crew releases a mongoose onto the island to see how it'll fare, and the mongoose lasts less than three minutes. When there's an attack on the science crew during a live broadcast, the US military moves in and blockades the island, including all media broadcasts, and they begin to sort out the issue of what to do with an island full of amazing new life forms that all want to kill you.
The moment it goes from "Jurassic Park" to "The Abyss," the book seems to be reaching for something more than just being a thriller. It becomes a comment on how we judge other species on this planet, and the fallacy of assuming that we are the "top" of anything. It's a risky conceit, and Fahy pulls it off by giving a real sense of character to the dominant life form on Henders Island. And while he makes some great choices, he also falls back on the "end each chapter with a cliffhanger" formula a little too much. He also creates a human villain so loathesome (the way he dispatches his infant son early on is breathtakingly grotesque, and goes further than I think a popcorn read like this should go) that by the time he finally meets his fitting end (and you know it's coming, so that's not a spoiler), it's more a relief than a crescendo.
Overall, this seems to establish Fahy as a guy who does this sort of thing well, and I'm curious to see what else he's got up his sleeve. He's got a clean, simple prose style, and he can definitely ratchet up the suspense when he wants to. As debut books go, "Fragment" is worth the read.
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