Monday, April 27, 2009

Where have you been all my life, Warren Fahy?

Fragment: A Novel
by Warren Fahy

It is hard to find the words to express how much I enjoyed this novel. Arguably it has flaws. I don’t care; I LOVED it! Here’s hoping this inventive debut is the first of many, many best-sellers from Mr. Fahy!

After a couple of prologues, Fragment opens with an American research ship coming to remote, unexplored Henders Island. The Trident, actually the setting for a semi-educational reality television show, had planned to bypass tiny Henders when an emergency beacon coming from the island turned it around. Botanist Nell Duckworth gets separated from the rest of the landing party when she spies some highly unusual plant life on the beach. The others move on, inland to the jungle. Nothing is like anything these scientists and crew members have ever seen before, and they’re broadcasting live as they go. Within steps, all hell breaks lose. There are screams. Cameras drop. There is confusion everywhere. The network breaks the feed. Back stateside and around the world the debate begins: Did you see Sealife? Was that a hoax?

Only one cameraman makes it back to the beach, chased by enormous, eight-legged, red-furred monsters. To Nell, they look like spiders crossed with tigers—spigers. She and Zero, the cameraman, barely escape with their lives. Cut to a few days later… The United States Navy has warships ringing the island. There is a complete media blackout. Agencies ranging from NASA to the U.S. Army have been brought in to get a team of scientists safely onto Henders to study this island ecosystem which diverged from our own evolutionary path more than 250 million years ago.

Does that sound far-fetched to you? If Fahy has a strength, it’s taking real science and using it to make the most implausible of plots utterly believable. That’s not fair, actually. Mr. Fahy has many strengths, the first of which is a wildly inventive imagination. On Henders he’s created an entire world, right here in the midst of our own. Another of his strengths is pacing. I read this novel in a day. From the opening chapter he had me hooked, but as I rapidly approached the dénouement, I literally could not turn the pages fast enough. Fragment started out fast-paced, and just got faster and tenser without ever flagging. As for plotting, yes, some elements of this novel are derivative. Already comparisons to Jurassic Park are flying around, and surely Mr. Fahy owes a huge debt to Michael Crichton, mostly, I’m guessing, for inspiration. He is not retreading the same old territory here. I could guess where some of the plot elements were going, but I could never guess what would happen when we got there. He blew me away every single time.

What are his weaknesses? Well, one is the sheer amount of science he’s relaying to his readers. I LIVE for that stuff, but that can’t be said of the average lay reader. I think he does as well as anyone, but it’s still a lot of science to exposit. The greater weakness is character development. Some of the characters were straight out of central casting, and time and time again, Fahy passed up opportunities to, for instance, make a bad guy more complex and less of a caricature. Most characters were not terribly fleshed out, and some may have acted inconsistently. And do you know what? I don’t care. Sure, that one element could have been stronger, but in no way did it take away from my enjoyment of this novel.

If this is fledgling author Fahy’s first effort, I can’t wait to see his follow-up! Fragment is a wild ride, but more than anything else it is just so much fun!

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