Monday, December 14, 2009


What's it called? Fragment
Who wrote it? Warren Fahy
What's the genre? Science Thriller

One Shot, Ongoing, or Pilot? Sure feels like it's meant to be a pilot

What's the Pitch? Jurassic Park meets 'Survivor' with a pinch of The Lost World (Conan Doyle, not Chrichton)
Fragment has some great ideas. Let me get that out of the way first. Those ideas, which aren’t really original, but certainly spun in a new way, are intriguing, and worth discussing. As a novel, though, I‘d sum it up as “It‘s The Da Vinci Code of Science Thrillers!” Great ideas, terrible writing, strangely readable, probably to be loved by millions.

Sounds pretty good, right? If only. Fragment is populated with a cast of paper doll characters- so thin as to be flat, and barely able to wear the stereotyped roles give to them. Lonely female scientist- check. Awkward supernerd crushing on said LFS- check. Conniving gloryhound- check. Dashing supergenius- check. Amoral, driven network exec- check again. The book is littered with these poorly sketched-out characters. Surpisingly, for a bunch of smarties, they do a lot of really stupid things, all in service of setting up ‘dramatic tension’. It reads like watching a late 80’s/late 90’s action movie. Why use logic or, god forbid, common sense, when dealing with the unknown? Ugh. This book is littered with pointless plot turns, including a truly stupid aside with the ‘villain’ of the book, showing just how evil he is. It’s great when you’re told he takes his populist opinions only to make money, then he’s turned into a zealot who will go to any length to not have his theories overturned. As a modern scientist, surely he’s familiar with the concept of ‘spin’. The rest of the book is filled with more lazy plot devices, including the ‘god-fearing soldier’ being used by the villain to stop the ‘abominations’. Even the book’s ‘romance’ is telegraphed early on- diagrams are shown referring to the married name of a character you know to be single. That’s just sloppy. Sloppy, sloppy- it reads more like a SyFy Saturday night movie than a high-concept science thriller.

Okay, so there’s gotta be something redeeming in this, right? Well, yeah. The idea itself, of an island cut off from the rest of the world for hundreds of millions of years, and thus showing an interesting ‘what might have been’ scenario, is a great one. The different creatures encountered are all very interesting, and the different evolutionary path they took is an exciting idea, one I feel Fahy did an excellent job in describing. The excerpts from the ‘field guides’ that appear throughout the book are also enjoyable, and a nice touch. The creatures on the island are not easy to visualize- these drawings help immensely. One negative, though- one of the most important creatures on the island is never depicted, in favor of multiple drawings of the ‘spigers’, the story equivalent of Jurassic Park’s raptors. Still, nice to see. Good thing CGI has progressed a lot in the past few years.

One of the other things I enjoyed was a series of ‘chats’ which appear in the earlier part of the book- thinly-disguised exposition delivered by the dashing ‘hero’ scientist which will no doubt be of vital importance to events on the island, never mind that they occur with now knowledge of what’s found on the island. They’re presented as informal scientific debates- someone presents an outrageous theory to students and peers for crtitical review. I actually really liked these discussions- they were completely ridiculous, taking small amounts of data as near proof-positive of the rightness of the theory- but they were clever ‘justifications’ for evidence seen later on in the book. However, just because you can come up with an explanation for something, doesn’t make it so. Also, one of the things I didn’t pick up on at first- the ‘hero’ scientist is young and rebellious, known for his out-there theories, while those who question his ideas are all older, stuck-in-their-way scientists. No ageism there. But still, it was an enjoyable change of pace from a boring infodump like the kind Dan Brown has used in his books.
Fragment has some great ideas. Let me get that out of the way first. Those ideas, which aren’t really original, but certainly spun in a new way, are intriguing, and worth discussing. As a novel, though, I‘d sum it up as “It‘s The Da Vinci Code of Science Thrillers!” Great ideas, terrible writing, strangely readable, probably to be loved by millions.

The basic plot revolves around the crew of a biology/ reality TV program vessel discovering a (nearly) undiscovered island which is home to a population of plants and animals unlike any ever seen on Earth… at least not for the past 700 million years. Imagine an island where everything is a predator- even the plants are out to eat you. It’s not long before the military gets involved, and soon the whole world is watching- literally. What follows is a high-speed chase to solve the mystery of why this island exists, what it says about our planet’s past and future, and find missing crew members, all before the timer hits zero.

 Okay, so the plot sucks but the ideas are at least servicable. So where’s that leave my opinion? Well, like I said, it’s actually a strangely readable book. For as much groaning I did while reading the lousy dialogue and idiotic character development, I was really curious as to what would happen with the island itself. So I kept reading. And once I accepted it would be no better than a really bad SyFy movie, I could kind of accept it as the Jurassic Park wanna-be it is. The descriptions of the island and its inhabitants almost make up for the otherwise lousy writing. If you’re interested in nature gone wrong, this might be something you’d like. Otherwise, I would only recommend it as a quick time-waster while waiting for ‘Mansquito’ to play on SyFy.

For my inaugural review, I give Fragment

1.5 Mad Scientists out of 5

Next up- Non-Euclidian Shopping Centers at the Mall of Cthulhu.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Welcome to the Reading Room

Welcome to Library Card of the Damned, my attempt at a media review blog.  Well, I call it a 'media review blog', but really, it's just going to be me rambling on about whatever book/movie/TV series (DVD only, as I don't watch current TV shows due to laziness) happens in front of my eyes.  It'll mostly be current media- the stuff I'm reading and watching at the moment- but I'll probably also go back and highlight some standouts from the past.  Also expect the odd music recommendation now and again.

The idea for this came from two sources.  First, I've posted the occasional book review on my first blog, Karloff's Ghost, and really enjoyed stepping out of my normal post as artist and into role as media rambler.  I love books and movies, and I love getting the word out about those ones I love (and warn against the ones I don't).  I thought this might be a more natural outlet for those reviews, rather than throwing everything off course over there.  Second, I was inspired by a podcast I've started listening to: Science Fiction Book Review Podcast.  The creator of the podcast, Luke Burrage, does a fantastic job reviewing SciFi books- great analysis of each book, from a reader's perspective instead of a critic's.  His reviews are always fun to listen to, and I enjoy hearing his thoughts on each book- which is saying something, since I've disagreed with almost every review he's done of a book I've read.  His always-enjoyable reviews have helped inspire me to burden you readers with my own.

The format will be pretty straightforward-think of the book reports you did back in high school.  I'll lay out the basics of the book- non-spoilery plot, characters, etc., then talk about whether or not I actually liked it and why.  Finally, I'll do something clever like rate it on a scale, since that's what I always look for first in a review online (great thing about podcast reviews- I listen through the whole thing before I can hear the bottom line).  After that, I'll let you know what I'll be reading/watching next- when I can.  I sometimes don't know what I'll be reading until I've picked it up.  Please don't expect this to be by any means a professional review- I'm just a fan of books and movies, and I love talking about them, so this'll be a pretty off-the-cuff discussion.  If I have a lot to say about a book, I will- if I don't, I won't.  I'm not paid by the word (if only!).

As always, your thoughts, opinions, and suggestions are more than welcome- I'm always on the lookout for new books to read.

First up will be some reviews of books I recently finished: Fragment by Warren Fahy.

Thanks for wandering into the Library.  Please remember, no loud noises- you'll wake the monsters...