01/02/2010. Contributed by Rod MacDonald
pub: Macmillan Audio. 11 hours 9 CDs. Price: $39.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4272-0681-7) read by Scott Sowers .
check out website: http://us.macmillan.com/Book.aspx?isbn=9781427206817
Douglas Preston is the co-author, with Lincoln Child, of the 'Pendergast' series of novels, including the titles 'The Book Of The Dead' and 'The Wheel Of Darkness', as well as 'The Relic', which was made into a movie. His solo novels include 'Jennie', made into a movie by Disney, and the New York Times bestsellers 'Tyrannosaur Canyon' and 'Blasphemy'. His latest novel, 'Impact', which is reviewed here, is a combination of Science Fiction and adventure with a touch of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure.
In fact, the author seems to be a bit of an adventurer himself. Widely travelled, he has journeyed to all corners of the Earth in search of stories. 'Impact' is packed full of adventure and in many ways the major character, the swashbuckling Wyman Ford, must somewhat resemble the author himself.
Scott Sowers, the narrator, is an accomplished actor of both stage and screen. His theatre credits include roles in 'Inherit The Wind', 'A Streetcar Named Desire', 'Bus Stop' and 'A Few Good Men'. His television appearances include guest roles in the 'Law & Order' franchise, 'The Black Donnellys', 'Six Degrees', 'All My Children' and the Hallmark Channel's season for 'Miracles' and 'The Yearling'. Scott most recently appeared in the films 'Trust The Man', 'The Village' and 'The Ten'. He has a forthright and commanding voice with, dare I say, impact which is ideal for the fast tempo of this novel.
Be warned, once you start listening to this you'll will not want to switch it off, always a sign of a good novel. The approach is by a three-pronged attack involving three dissimilar characters which somehow come together as the novel progresses.
Abbey Straw seems to be a young women from the gutter with sights on the stars. A black girl adopted by a fisherman from mainly white Maine, she regrets her lost opportunities of the past, including an affair with a psychopathic dropout lobster-pot man. Seeking redemption, she steals her father's boat and along with Jackie, a friend of limited intelligence, which is helpful for the explanation mechanisms of the story, set out in search of a meteor which had smashed into a nearby island. Knowing that meteorites are valuable, she hoped to make a fortune from it on eBay. Unfortunately, the psycho is not far behind her.
We also have Mark Corso, a scientist working on the Mars Mission in Southern California. Corso receives a hard drive of data showing anomalous gamma ray activity coming from the planet. The person that sent him the package is now dead, almost decapitated in suspicious circumstances. Despite his best efforts to present this information to officials, he is rudely treated, given the sack and kicked out on the building. Working alone, he realises that the gamma rays do not come from Mars but from Deimos, one of the satellites of that planet. There is also evidence of an alien artefact which may be responsible for the potentially dangerous emissions. The question is, what should he do now?
The main character, Wyman Ford, makes a journey into the depths of the Cambodian forest where the Khmer Rouge are still in power. On a covert mission to discover the source of radioactive gemstones which could be turned into dirty bombs, he comes across a clearing in the jungle where people are worked to death mining the material. Disgusted by the situation, he uses guile and wit to close down the operation but when investigating the source of what he thought was a meteor impact crater, he is completely mystified.
It turns out an alien artefact is ready to wipe out human civilisation. This becomes a countdown story. Only 60 hours to save the Earth with apparently no way out! Admittedly, the first third of the book meanders a little but once it reaches the nexus of the problem, the pace is fast and furious. Douglas Preston has the ability to attach hooks to the ending of each chapter to entice you to turn to the next.
Earthy and gutsy style, expletives are fairly common but it is all commensurate with the characterisation. As a Science Fiction novel it is okay but some of the science is a bit disappointing. Early in the story, Abbey is looking through a telescope at the Andromeda Galaxy in the constellation of Orion. Well, it's actually in Andromeda. This is a blatant mistake but the science surrounding the meteor impacts, gamma rays, radioactive elements and black holes is a bit sketchy.
Nonetheless, Douglas Preston tells a really good tale. His characterisation is spot on and the description of scenes and action take you right there in the midst of it. As an audio presentation, it is very successful, well-packaged and professionally narrated. It was very enjoyable to listen to, especially over the days of cabin fever encountered during Britain's spell of cold winter weather. Definitely recommended!
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