Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Girl, a Boat, a Hero... and the Fate of the Universe?


Showy meteorite displays on opposite sides of the world... a couple of driven scientists, trying to pinpoint the source of a group of unusual gamma rays, located far away in the solar system... the recent influx into the rare jewel market of some beautiful (but deadly) gemstones... a curious (and tenacious) young girl who sets out on a fishing boat from the coast of Maine to find her fortune... and the (former) CIA operative trying to put all these pieces together and make sense of things, before it’s too late for everyone: this is Douglas Preston’s action-packed, sci-fi adventure thriller, Impact.
★ // ★ // ★ // ★
Abbey Straw is a college student like so many of her peers, just going with the flow--but dissatisfied with her options. What she wants is to be an astronomer (which, unfortunately, isn’t what she’s been going to school for), so she drops out one day with only a vague idea of finding some long-buried treasure off the coast of Maine to fund her dreams. When she happens to witness a fabulous meteor shower one night--and also manages to catch the meteor’s fall with her camera--she can hardly believe her luck. It’s like an omen; this is what she’s meant to do: triangulate the coordinates of the landing using the images she’s captured, find the meteor somewhere out there (in the hundreds of small islands off the coast), and make her fortune. So, after enlisting the aid of her best friend and borrowing her father’s small fishing boat, she sets out.
Aerospace engineer Mark Corso feels like the opportunity of a lifetime has just fallen into his lap when he’s given the prestigious job recently--and tragically--vacated by his mentor, who was killed during a home invasion. The feeling of destiny soon intensifies--even as it also morphs into a certain amount of uneasiness--when he receives, shortly thereafter, a mysterious parcel in the mail. It contains an encrypted hard drive--stolen from his new place of work--and is chock-full of unusual, highly-classified images from the Mars mission... images that shouldn’t be. The sender? His dead mentor.
Wyman Ford, an ex-CIA operative, receives an urgent summons to the Washington, D.C. office of the president’s top science advisor, where he’s given a hush-hush assignment: locate the source of a new gemstone known as “honeys”, which have taken the market by storm--a beautiful stone, exact origin unknown... that just so happens to be radioactive (in other words, deadly to the wearer, with the potential to make some very nasty dirty bombs). Once Ford finds the honey mine(s), he is to report back to Washington, so they can decide what to do next.
None of these three people has ever met, but they’re about to independently discover perplexing clues to the same large puzzle... one with deadly implications, for each of them... and perhaps for the entire planet.
★ // ★ // ★ // ★
I’ve read a lot of things by Douglas Preston--books penned by him alone, as well as several collaborations with his frequent writing partner, Lincoln Child (going all the way back to 1995’s fabulous Relic)--so I knew about what to expect: a solid tech-y background with some interesting science stuff, a host of realistic characters to keep up with, plenty of drama and action, and a few spine-tingling chills. And, in many ways, Impact lives up to the long tradition I associate with this author. 
The book has a fascinating premise--one that doesn’t go in entirely-predictable directions, thank goodness. It’s definitely action-packed, with some key scenes reminiscent of those from the Indiana Jones franchise (yay!), and others drawing from sources like “The Perfect Storm” and “Cape Fear” (again, cool!). As for the characters, Ford and Abbey, in particular, are drawn extremely well, and their relationship--once they eventually meet--works quite nicely.    
It’s not a “perfect” book, though. Chief among my complaints is that it’s a slow-starter; I had to talk myself into trudging through the first fifty or sixty pages until my interest finally caught and held. (That kind of start doesn’t tend to put me in a very good mood.) The Corso character isn’t as strong as the other two leads, either, so those sections continued to be somewhat frustrating for me. (Maybe he’s exactly as Preston saw him--an annoying wienie--or maybe he just strikes me that way, I don’t know. Regardless, he grates on my nerves.) Finally, the ending feels a tad abrupt, with a little extra tacked on after that. (Let’s just say it’s not the cleanest job of setting out the grand conclusion.)
Still, Impact provides a good-enough ride overall that I think anyone who enjoys action/adventure-thrillers with a science twist should enjoy it (provided they have patience through the draggy beginning, that is). As for me, I’m holding out hope that Preston’s next solo adventure is just a little bit better.

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Mousies

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