Evolutionary science, spine-tingling horror and reality
television collide in Warren Fahy’s FRAGMENT, a terrific
debut novel that illustrates how scientists’ dream discovery
quickly devolves into their worst nightmare on the world’s
most secluded island.
FRAGMENT opens in 1791, as a ship on the trail of mutineers from
the HMS Bounty happens upon a forbidding walled
island in the most isolated region of the vast South Pacific Ocean.
What starts as a voyage of discovery on the island (which soon
becomes named for the ship’s captain, Ambrose Henders) turns
into a disaster, causing the sailors to beat a hasty retreat, minus
one of their own, who, as one of his shipmates reports, has been
“et by monsters.”
More than 200 years later, another ship, the Trident,
approaches Henders Island. This time, though, the craft is manned
not only by a ship’s crew and a scientific team, but also by
a television crew assigned to film the scientists during their
voyages to remote islands as part of a reality TV show,
“Sealife.” The ship is responding to a
mysterious distress call sent out by a long-abandoned sailboat. For
botanist Nell Duckworth, Henders Island represents the opportunity
of a lifetime, the potential chance to study botanical specimens
that have evolved isolated from all other forms of life on earth,
perhaps even the chance to discover and name a new species.
Show producer Cynthea Leeds is excited about Henders Island for
her own reason. This might be the perfect opportunity to introduce
the kind of drama --- Interpersonal conflicts! Sex! Romance! ---
that she needs to boost the program’s rating. When a small
party of scientists and cameramen go ashore and try to make their
way into the island’s interior, however, it soon becomes
apparent that Henders Island and its previously unseen inhabitants
will create more than enough drama.
The creatures on Henders Island, both animals and
“plants,” are entirely alien to any species previously
seen on earth. They are, without exception, brutally predatory and
perfectly adapted to their ultra-competitive, ultra-violent
environment. It soon becomes clear, after a series of planned
experiments and horrific accidents, that any one of the species on
Henders would soon wipe out life on earth if they were ever removed
from the controlled, isolated Henders Island.
Soon the original inhabitants of the Trident are locked
in a battle of wills with politicians, producers and other
scientists about the future of Henders Island. Is it a vital
scientific laboratory? A cautionary tale? A source of bioweapons? A
threat to human life on earth? As crises mount, various scientific
theories play out and proponents of those theories have their
chance to stake their claim, make their case, and see how abstract
theories play out in “real life” scenarios.
Michael Crichton, author most famously of JURASSIC PARK and
other scientifically-based thrillers, perfected the combination of
sound scientific subject matter and compelling plotlines.
First-time novelist Warren Fahy seems poised to fill
Crichton’s shoes with a novel that keeps readers on the edge
of their seats even as it explains provocative theories about such
topics as the evolutionary role of natural lifespans and the
surprising relationship between sexual reproduction and evolution.
At times, some of the scientist characters seem to serve as little
more than stand-ins for their preferred theoretical positions, but
overall Fahy does an admirable job of integrating fact and fiction
in a way that will appeal to thriller fans and amateur scientists
alike. Detailed scientific drawings of the Henders Island creatures
help add to the air of authenticity and further enhances the
FRAGMENT’s story seems well-positioned for a sequel.
Here’s hoping that Fahy’s debut heralds the beginning
of a career as long, accomplished and thrilling as Crichton’s
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 22, 2011