REVIEW SUMMARY:Excellent sci-fi thriller that offers a ride reminiscent of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An ex-con turned animal hunter is thrust onto a very dangerous planet and forced to rally his rag-tag team of misfits into a fight for their very lives.
PROS: Very well written action sequences, overall pacing is excellent
CONS: Some characters are openly stereotypical, dream element heavy-handed
BOTTOM LINE: Well worth the time if you enjoy a bit of thrill along with your pulpy science fiction.
Humanity’s first reach into the stars has some very practical side-effects. While most people won’t get the chance to visit other planets, they are interested in the life that is found there and it is natural to assume today’s zoos will want to fill that need. Wyatt Dorren is an ex-con with a new lease on life thanks to a work-release program that has put him on an animal hunting crew with Chicago’s interplanetary zoo. He traps animals on newly discovered planets and brings them back for exhibition in the zoo. Wyatt is good at his job and rapidly rises through the ranks ultimately attracting the attention of the zoo Director – who sees him as a threat. To deal with this, Wyatt is secretly sent on a mission to planet only just discovered – one that completely eliminated any traces of the initial survey team.
This one-way trip involves a group of people all intended to be lost – close friends of Wyatt, ineffective junior employees, the elder trapper about to draw a huge pension, and another work-release felon whose violent behavior is proving impossible to manage. But in addition to this group, the cover-up involving the secret destination also traps a student out on a planetary survey sponsored by her school. Thanks to this and a few other helpful accidents, Wyatt discovers the true situation and has to drag his team across the dangerous ground on a trek for their survival.
Clark manages to spin this tale into a very fun and compelling read. The plot moves along sharply – and that is what impressed me the most. There are some side-elements that might have been better eliminated (Wyatt has dreams that foreshadow trouble but end up meaning little) but overall the book moves quickly. There is political intrigue involving blackmail of a General, the confrontations between Wyatt and the Director, and of course the troubles on the planet itself. The team suffers setbacks, but none of them felt contrived or designed to stall the plot or pad the book. The trek across the planet has a great sense of forboding – especially when the reader knows more than the characters and sees that they are about to walk into trouble. Finally, I really liked the fact that at the end of the day, the planet has no sense of evil or morality to it – that is instead left for the humans. The alien creatures that go about their lives in the harsh environment are neither good nor bad – they are just surviving.
The science fiction is pretty well done, especially the parts involving the ecology of the alien planet. The ideas on alien life forms are just Earth-like enough to make the threats they pose seem real. Imagine finding a planet like Earth’s in the grip of the dinosaurs, for example. From carnivorous plants to emerging sentient frog-men and to the truly dangerous beasts on the planet they all felt realistic and believable.
Some of the characters are a bit stereotypical (the ex-con, the kid, etc.) although I give Clark some credit for admitting to it in the book. At one point Wyatt, under the delusion that his team was assembled for media value, points out how each of them fits a specific role. Hey, at least he was honest about it. And while some characters change a little due to the experience, most of them aren’t that deep to begin with and aren’t candidates for growth. It is a thriller, after all, and not exactly Hyperion. I didn’t mind that the characters are somewhat weak – this is a plot-driven story that is ultimately very good at what it was meant to be.
All told – I was glad I read the book and had a good time reading it. It is a great bit of pulp fiction that delivers a fast-paced, exciting read.
Note: A review copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher.