Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Impact / by Douglas Preston

Massachusetts native Douglas Preston began his career as a contributing columnist for periodicals such as The Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and Smithsonian. As a both a novelist and non-fiction writer, his material, concentrated in the techno-thriller genre but well-grounded in conventional narrative style, is broadly accessible and uniquely suited to readers of all tastes. Recently some of his most well-regarded works including The Cabinet of Curiosities, The Ice Limit, Riptide and Relic, have been co-authored Lincoln Child, himself the author of several popular eco-thrillers. The character of Wyman Ford, an ex-CIA agent turned freelance undercover operative, has appeared in his last four Douglas Preston solo novels including his most recent, Impact, which chronicles the intriguing set of circumstances on earth following the peculiar crash landing of a meteorite from outer space.

One peaceful New England night, a comet rips through the sky over the coast of Maine landing (it seems) in the ocean only a few knots beyond a small fishing village. At precisely the same moment another meteorite makes impact in a remote part of the Cambodian jungle creating a crater approximately a mile in diameter. Though a rather ironical coincidence, the event is forgotten only a few days after the fact until some strange gemstones of a seemingly amber origin begin to emerge on the black market. When a Washington socialite who's been seen around town with a necklace bearing one of the gems is diagnosed with radiation poisoning, the stones are analyzed and determined to contain a peculiar type of gamma ray radioactivity. While it's anyone's guess as to the origin of the stones, the source needs to be located and soon. At a loss for what to do and running out of time, the feds call upon ex-CIA operative and fix-it specialist Wyman Ford to investigate. Ford works fast, connecting the origin of the stones to a naturally dug crater in Cambodia only to conclude that the large hole in the ground being mined by the natives, the sight of the aforementioned meteorite crash, is an exit point from which the substance in question was propelled out of the ground, not into it.

Meanwhile back in Maine, Abby Straw is a an Ivy League dropout living in her podunk hometown of Round Pond when she sees the meteorite drop from the sky and land just over the horizon. A bit of an astronomy enthusiast whose in need of some cash (knowing that any kind of orbital matter could fetch a hefty sum on ebay), Abby thinks she knows where the artifact may have landed, and contrary to the public opinion, it's not in the ocean but rather on a small uninhabited island just a few miles away from the shore. So with her friend Jackie tagging along, Abby 'borrows' her dad's fishing boat and sets out to excavate the site. What she doesn't know however, but what she soon finds out is that she may be dealing with more than just a piece of a meteor from outside the atmosphere, and where it came from may not have anything to do with asteroids or meteors but rather an extraterrestrial presence just a few light years away on Mars. Preston writes compelling characters and knows just how much science to input into his stories to create good narrative. As the mystery of the meteorite unravels, the author craftily merges the facts about astrophysics and current NASA-based research about Mars with a good backstory and storylines involving the two protagonists. And though it's multi-faceted sequences concerning the various characters take a while to come together, the book meets with a satisfactory conclusion and a good jumping off point for what promises to be an eagerly anticipated sequel. (FIC PRESTON)

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