Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Origins - Andy Wallace

   2012; 521 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; First Contact.  Overall Rating : 7*/10.

    Something is killing the crocodiles in Australia.  It might be some sort of virus, or perhaps some sort of bacteria.  Professor Ethan Harris and Jake Robinson, Down Under, have asked their old buddy at Charnwood Genetics, Dr. Mark Holland, located at Loughborough University in the UK, to take a look at the crocs’ DNA, to see if he can determine the cause of their demise.

    Meanwhile, a couple miles away from Mark, at Elvaston Castle, estate manager Kate Watson discovers that at certain times there are weird tremors outside the old Moorish temple on the castle grounds.   This is odd, since the temple is boarded up and sealed off to anyone trying to get into it.  She checks with her colleague “Jas”, and he feels the mini-quakes too, so Kate knows it’s not a matter of her imagining things.

    And just another couple miles away from her, Jacob Ellis, a 35-year-old insomniac, is suffering from a recurring nightmare where he is abducted by aliens who perform some sort of ghoulish surgical procedure on him.  Jacob’s not sure what they exactly do to him because he always wakes up before that.  Still, the nightmare occurs every night, and it’s wearing him out.  Maybe he should see a psychiatrist.

    These three scenarios seem unrelated, but they aren’t.  And when they merge, everyone involved is going to find that their lives are in jeopardy.

What’s To Like...
    Origins is an ambitious effort at what I can best describe as a “first contact” story.  It quickly becomes apparent that “the others” are a vastly superior race, technology-wise, and I always like it when we humans are the underdogs.  There are 44 chapters and a prologue, encompassing 521 pages, but the chapters vary greatly in length, including an extremely long chapter 30, which basically covers the history of the last 65 million years of plant Earth.

    There’s a strong female lead (Kate), and a way-kewl transporter system that would be really neat to try out.  There is also a bit of Time-Travel, although that seems to be confined to the “others”.  The book is written in English, so you have words like metres, faeces, vapour, and aeons; but I’ve always enjoyed reading novels in Brit-speak.

    There’s a bunch of cussing, and while this doesn’t offend me, I keep wondering if it is really necessary in a story like this.  Yes, it adds realism to the dialogue, but in this case, I think it could’ve easily been waived.  I liked the settings – England and Australia, especially Ayers Rock., although there was a certain “Google Earth” feel to the descriptions.  There aren’t a lot of characters to follow (and really, the only ones you need to keep track of are Kate and Mark), but don’t get too attached to any of the others as I think Andy Wallace had a case of “George R.R. Martin envy” when it comes to killing characters off.

    I was scared that this was going to be another “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” tale – all building-up and no actual contact.  So I was pleased when our heroes journey to an Alternate Earth, and meet up with the aliens at 92%.  The final 8% of the book is action-packed and with a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming.  Not everyone is going to be happy with the way things turn out, but I for one thought it was well done, and with a great twist.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Folly (n.) : a costly ornamental building with no practical purpose, especially a tower or mock-gothic ruin built in a large garden or park.
Others : Lay-by (n.; Britishism).

    “I can make us some coffee,” he said, “or there’s juice in the fridge … or, if you prefer something alcoholic, I’ve got some wine…”
    “I had a couple of glasses at the barbeque,” she said.  “If I drink any more, I won’t be able to drive home – and I’ll end up having to sleep over ‘’ she smiled.
    “Well in that case,” Mark said, smiling back, “I’ll crack open a bottle.  Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon?”
    “Shiraz please,” she replied.  (loc. 3107)

   “Well, if you genuinely believe that they’re just a bunch of inexperienced, wannabe scientists,” Kate mocked, “we definitely need to stop them – and quickly.  It’s bad enough having your life controlled by a group of highly evolved, super intelligent beings … but Beaker from The Muppet Show?  God help us!”  (loc. 5802

Kindle Details...
    Origins sells for $0.99 at Amazon, and is in fact only available as an e-book there.  It is Andy Wallace’s sole offering, at least so far.

“So … all we are is a race of lab rats?”  (loc. 6795)
    There are some weaknesses.  First of all, there are a slew of typos, to the point of where they got distracting.  Yes, the author at least used spell-checker, but that doesn’t catch everything, and I found myself screaming for a proofreader to come clean things up.  Also, the detailed descriptions of everything can get tedious, and after a while they take their toll on the book’s pacing.

    The more serious issue with Origins is the storytelling itself.  I felt like the author was making the plotline up as he went along, with no pre-planned idea of where he wanted things to do and how to get there.

    This made for a lot of superfluous actions.  There was a barbecue get-together, which didn’t really move the story along one bit.  Mark grieves for his parents, killed in a tragic car accident many years ago, but if you’re waiting for that to impact the storyline, you will meet with disappointment.  And why-oh-why was a second Australian operative introduced, when she doesn’t have anything to do with anything?

    7 Stars.  I found the overall concept of Origins to be refreshingly creative.  But it really needs some polishing and editing to make it shine.  And some beta-readers who aren’t afraid to be brutally honest wouldn’t have hurt either.

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