Monday, February 28, 2011

"Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Pandemonium."

Pandemonium
by Warren Fahy

UPDATE 3/8/2011:  Pandemonium is temporarily unavailable on Amazon and other ebook selling sites.  Reader response was strong enough to interest several publishers in the book, and it is currently unavailable while negotiations are ongoing.  I'll post updates as news is available.  Congrats to the lucky readers who grabbed it quick!

Nearly three two years ago, I read a debut thriller by an unknown author leading me to ask the immortal question, "Where have you been all my life, Warren Fahy?" And more to the point, where did you go? Happily, Mr. Fahy is at last back with a self-published sequel to Fragment. It would be an understatement to say that my expectations for this book were high. Arguably, too high. Let me cut to the chase and simply tell you: this book is totally AWESOME!

Pandemonium opens just a few months after the events of Fragment. Fahy had left the door wide open for a sequel, and he steps right through it as the desiccated body of Thatcher Redmond washes up on a remote Japanese island, carrying it's deadly cargo of Hender's fauna. (Don't assume you know where this is leading. Fahy is always three steps ahead.)

Across the world, Nell and Geoffrey Binswanger are enjoying their first days of wedded bliss. Since their escape from Henders Island, they—along with colleague Andy Beasley—have been working with the five surviving hendros from the island. These gentle creatures have captured the world's imagination and are well on their way to winning their hearts. But the powers that be aren't sure how much freedom these alien intelligences should be granted. They are currently being held in comfortable isolation, but they are petitioning for full freedom—or at least internet access.

Nell and Geoffrey are shaking up the hendros' comfortable routine by going off on their honeymoon. However, just as they're about to depart for Hawaii, the two are given the proverbial offer they can't refuse. It’s a lucrative working vacation studying an extraordinary unknown ecosystem. Their benefactor is a slightly suspect Russian billionaire by the name of Maxim Dragolovich. And before anyone knows where they’re going, he’s whisked Nell and Geoffrey off to a subterranean world like nothing you’ve imagined in your wildest dreams, a world he calls “Pandemonium.” There, Nell and Geoffrey renew old acquaintances and make new ones, and at first it’s all so magical… I don’t want to tell much more. It’s far too much fun to make each delicious discovery on your own!

There’s a reason why sequels rarely live up to reader expectations. When an author has done his job really well, he’s created a whole new world in a book. No matter how great the second novel is, it simply can’t offer the freshness and originality of the first. Let me tell you why I think Fahy succeeds so well here.

First, he offers more of what he got right in Fragment. This novel moves at an absolutely breathless pace. I read it in a single day, and there was simply no way you could have gotten me to put this book down before I reached the conclusion. Fahy’s bread and butter is creating fantastic creatures, both magnificent and horrifying. He revisits some territory in Pandemonium, but he expands quite satisfactorily on what he’d created previously. His imagination is off the hook! But what I love the most is that everything he creates, from the environment, to the creatures, to the technology (which I’ll get to in a moment), is so thoroughly grounded in real, right-up-to-the-moment, science. It’s smart, it’s fun, and it’s truly a joy to read.

I criticized the character development in Fragment and I’m not going to claim that this is a nuanced character study. In fact, the main villain of this novel is again a bit on the cartoonish side, but this time he’s cartoonish in a good way! He’s definitely a more interesting, more well-rounded character. I don’t know that I learned a great deal more about Nell, Geoffrey, and Andy, but they’re likable characters and fulfill their roles admirably. This novel introduces a child character—always a dicey proposition—but I have to admit I kind of loved her. (Except, Warren, isn’t Sasha a man’s name in Russia?)

He definitely walks the same cuteness tightrope in his depiction of the hendros, or sels, or whatever you want to call them. It would have been so easy for them to become twee, but here again, I think Fahy gets the balance just right. I simply loved them. These characters are a golden opportunity for comic relief, like when they gather around to watch a movie and it’s Jurassic Park, LOL. But these creatures are more than cute comic devices. They’re supposedly possessed of great wisdom, and Fahy manages to illustrate that, such as with Hender’s oft repeated admonition for tolerance, “There is no ‘they.’ Remember? There is only one. And one. And one. No ‘they!’” He’s managed to create alien characters that are, if anything, more intriguing and complex than the human ones. Plus, they have a better grasp of social media than I do.

The latter part of this novel involves a military operation. This is where Fahy brings in the big guns. Literally. The military hardware and technology was just so cool! Here Fahy tapped into my inner child, and apparently my inner child is a 13-year-old boy. Who knew? But I was completely enthralled with the exoskeleton robot (think Avatar) worn by one character, the ROVs named after Dr. Who’s Daleks, and the sheer firepower assembled. As one soldier says, “These species may be more evolved for battle than we are, but we have the technology, folks. I guarantee they’ve never come up against what we’re bringing to the fight.”

So, yeah, there’s a fight. And no one is safe. Fahy may kill off your favorite character in the blink of an eye. He creates tension, jeopardy, adrenaline, and he brings it all home for a most satisfying conclusion. He hasn’t left the obvious open door to a sequel this time around, but there was one question he left unanswered… I can’t stop wondering if it was intentional. I sure hope it was.

The bottom line is this: If you liked the first book, I think you’re going to love this one.

9 comments:

  1. Hi Susan, I was sure I already left a comment here, but strange blog things happen...
    I read your very well written reviews of Fragment and Pandemonium and promptly kindled them both, and can't wait to lose my weekend reading them.
    I love a book that sweeps me away, and it's been a while since The Passage cost me a lot of sleep, so thanks for these recommendations.

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  2. Hi Mel,

    Thanks so much (always) for taking the time to comment.

    And I hope you enjoy the novels! I love expressing my opinion, but then I always get worried that I'll lead someone astray with a recommendation. I'm so looking forward to hearing what you think of them. :-)

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  3. Susan,
    Honest question; what do you think of the dialog? I loved Fragment (story-wise) but the dialog sort of grated at times...

    About half-way though this sequel (and so won't say much on it as a whole) I am having the same feelings with the dialog.

    What are your feelings on Fahy's dialog?

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  4. Well, I can't honestly say that I recall the dialogue bothering me. My biggest issue with his work has always been the characters--most notably Thatcher Redmond, the villian of the first novel. I found him to be caricature-like. Maxim is also cartoonish, but somehow more palatable to me.

    I also noted the extensive science that the characters have to exposit in the books. Personally, that's my favorite thing about them, but some readers glaze over when a character whips out the evolutionary theory. But, you know what? If you sell the science, you've basically sold the book to me. It really is why I love these books. And the action. And the creatures. I think you get where I'm coming from.

    If you've looked around at the books I review, you've seen that I read a lot of serious literary fiction, and a lot of not-so-serious thrillers. They're two of my favorite genres, but I don't judge them the same way. I'm not looking to Warren Fahy or James Rollins to give me what I'll get from David Mitchell or Michael Chabon. (Although, who knows, maybe Chabon has a great thriller in him?) They're sort of apples and oranges.

    Thus far, I've enjoyed the heck out of Fahy's novels. I fully acknowledged the flaws of Fragment, but wrote in my review at the time, "I don't care!" I guess these books let me take off my usual hyper-critical hat and just embrace the wild ride. I'm a little surprised by how much I enjoyed the sequel, but I thought it was a ton of fun. Your mileage may vary.

    Do come back after you've finished the book and share your thoughts. Listen, I know it's not great literature, but was it fun?

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  5. Susan, I read Fragment in one sitting, it cost me a little sleep - and I loved it. Luckily I had downloaded Pandemonium for my kindle and could jump right in, because Mr. Fahy has pulled it off Amazon. I couldn't get the ISBN to enter it on my LT, but I can wait. I agree with your assessment, that the character flaws are outweighed by the story and the SCIENCE! I am a biotic geographer and have studied some of the examples of invasive exotics used in the story. I found the biology to be mesmerizing and love being reminded how amazingly strange and diverse the life forms on Earth really are. Mr. Fahy's web site can cost me days looking at all his science links.
    Thanks for the reco, now, I can't wait for the movies. I call this Jurracic Park meets Avatar meets Alien. I can forgive a few predictable plot twists or characterizations for such a great story. Off I go to finish Pandemonium. Happy reading.

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  6. Mel,

    Your comment made my day. I'm so happy to have turned you onto these books. I hope my friend Nicole, a marine biologist who bought them on my recommendation, enjoys them as much as we did. Smart, geeky girls rule!

    Susan

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  7. Susan, I am happy to report that I am finally doing it...I am diving into Fragment this afternoon!

    It has been on the list for quite some time now, but seems to get prioritized below my readings for challenges and PBT. This month, I chose to read short/sure-fire books for my challenges and am now going to indulge with Fragment!

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  8. And, I have finished Fragment! I completely agree with your earlier review: many of the characters lack depth, the evil villain is a bit over the top, and the romance side-note completely blind-sided me. But, I don't care!!!

    The science in this book was phenomenal. It was based on just enough truth to keep my inner science critic quiet, but was creative enough to keep me entralled. Plus, I want there to be real-life Thursday Night Fire-Breathing Chats...they sounds fantastic! I particularly liked the ethical twist on the ending and the implications for evolution.

    Warren Fahy, you have a new fan.

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  9. Yay, Nicole! I'm so glad you liked it! They're just fun. I hope you managed to snag Pandemonium in the narrow window it was offered. If not, I'll make sure you know when it's available again.

    And, of course, I'll inform you of any future awesome science thrillers I discover. :-)

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