Monday, August 7, 2017

What Happens Next... When the World Goes Dark & Scary

No matter how you cut it, there's a lot of scary stuff out there that we humans--regardless of how technologically-advanced, smart, or just plain ingenious we think we are--can do basically nothing about. 

Fortunately, many of the things which once plagued us no longer loom quite so large; some diseases have been virtually eradicated, while other conditions--which would once have been death sentences--can be managed, if not outright cured. We understand more about the nature of storms and tectonics, so are better equipped to take precautions against natural events. As a species, we humans are pretty darn plucky at the whole business of surviving-and-thriving.

But that still leaves an awful lot of unknowns and variables out there, the sorts of things that--well, there's just no way to say how we'll respond... unless/until they happen.

One of those impossible-to-prepare-for scenarios plays out in Matthew D. Hunt's chilling debut, Solar Reboot.
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What starts off as a pleasant father/daughter trip--with Alex and daughter Piper flying from Seattle to New York City so that she can compete in a big swim meet, after which their plan is to do a little sightseeing--takes a turn for the strange when the sky overhead becomes an unnatural hue, and meteorologists report being stumped. The strangeness isn't confined to the east coast, either; Alex's wife Cameron describes a similar phenomenon back home in Seattle during their nightly phone call.

A park ranger by trade (and bit of a doomsday-er on the side) whose job requires him to pay attention to weather anomalies, Alex is concerned, but no one else--certainly not his preteen daughter, whose mind is full of Big Apple fun--seems inclined to share his worries. Not until the morning breaks, with the sky still oddly dark and the city experiencing a total power outage, in fact, do others start exhibiting signs of alarm.

Unwilling to hold out for the power to come back on so they can catch their flight home--feeling the wrongness of whatever is happening down to his bones--Alex hurries his (extremely put-out) daughter out of the hotel, posthaste... making their way across the blacked-out city to New Jersey, where they eventually finagle a rental car for a (very) long drive home, instead.  

Meanwhile, Cameron (normally a cool-as-a-cucumber surgeon, herself) wakes up to similar chaos on the west coast; power outages and some pretty scared neighbors (who, to her dismay, all suddenly seem to be waving handguns and rifles)--combined with the uneasy phone convo with husband the night before--persuade her to load up the car with some of the supplies he'd been stockpiling, and head up to their remote weekend cabin in the mountains... just to be on the safe side.

It soon becomes apparent to everyone that those weird skies and the nationwide disruption of power grids are only the tip of a gigantic iceberg, though; the earth's atmosphere has been hit by fluke solar flares (which apparently go whizzing by us all the time, but almost never hit the teeny-tiny target that earth is, astronomically speaking), and all sorts of meteorological hell is about to break loose. 
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Solar Reboot is, at its core, a classic "road story", in which characters must undergo a journey fraught with perils to (hopefully, eventually) reach their destination. I've always found road tales to be particularly-compelling action stories, when done well, and this one doesn't disappoint; Alex and Piper endure hardship after hardship on their long cross-country odyssey, and I found myself worrying how/if this or that trouble was going to resolve itself (especially complications caused by Piper's diabetes, which would be an unimaginably scary, life-or-death concern in a world temporarily gone all to hell).

It is also, obviously, a work of science fiction (granted, not too heavy on the science, but with enough to likely please all but the biggest sticklers for the inclusion of copious scientific facts), and for me, it acquits itself admirably here, too.

Lastly, Solar Reboot is a story about relationships. Of course most books are about people, but sometimes relationship dynamics can take a backseat to the action. Such isn't the case here; Hunt draws not only his three main characters--the family unit (something he clearly knows well, as illustrated in a few particularly lovely, poignant scenes between father and daughter)--but also his side characters, both the ones who have larger roles and those who have quite minor (yet meaningful) ones, with great care. 

My one (very) minor quibble is that things occasionally get a little heavy-handed, as the author does his part to try and undo some stereotypes and common tropes. It's just one of those things I'm always hyper-sensitive to, though, and definitely isn't enough to detract me from any of my enjoyment of the book.

Solar Reboot is one of those stories I really hated having to put down when it was time to go to bed (or work, or to make dinner, etc.); I was completely invested in the characters, and couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next. So, this debut gets my enthusiastic recommendation... and this author has earned himself a place on my must-read-right-away list for any future works. :)

~GlamKitty