I just finished reading a new science-fiction novel by Warren Fahy called “Fragment”. They can it an eco-thriller and it’s about an isolated island in the South Pacific, thousands of miles from the closest land that has been biologically isolated from the rest of the planet for 500 million years. Thus evolution has proceeded along a very different path, one that has resulted in an ecosystem so deadly and invasive that even one creature from it could result in devastation for every other organism on the planet. Of course, some folks stumble upon this island and the rollicking ride ensues.
By the third page of this book I had a pretty good idea of how it would end. Oh, not the details, mind you, but the overall arc mainly because it follows the predictable path trod before it by Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park”, the “King Kong” movies, and even Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Lost World.” In fact, “Fragment” falls squarely in the family line of novels that arose after the era of the Victorian Enlightenment, in which Man thought he had had conquered nature and was now its master. Inevitably, novels like Doyle’s rejected that hubris to show that however much Man thinks he’s in charge, Nature always triumphs. Or if it doesn’t, maybe it should.
Such thinking is even more fashionable today among those who warn of humanity’s dire effects on the environment, and so Fahy takes up that banner. He does so very well with an entertaining and fast-paced read that includes one big twist and lots of scientific talk. (I’m not expert enough to know whether the science is accurate, but I can say it’s not so convoluted that a layman can’t follow. Or you can skip it and still enjoy the story.)
And yet, it’s still the Nature Triumphs over Man formula. You have the deadly but shadowy reveal of the “monster,” the disastrous first encounter by our hero, the retreat and then plucky advance, the dupe who blusters and is then lost, the villain who hopes to exploit Nature and his inevitable gruesome yet poetic demise, the heroic ending. If you’ve seen Spielberg’s movie, you can track the plot points even as the details change.
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the story. It’s a pageturner as you follow along the hero’s progress and wait to see what new creation emerges from his fertile imagination. If you expect a popcorn-cinema experience, a good beach novel, then you’ll be satisfied. But don’t expect any innovation of the genre as it plays out strictly by the numbers.
A couple of additional points: The novel’s protagonists are not religious. They are scientists with a penchant for seeing religion as an anthropological construct or superstition. And the one or two religious minor characters in the book are just that: superstitious and hostile to science. It’s not fatal to enjoyment of the book, but it would have been interesting to see how a faith-filled scientist—one who sees science as an aid to his faith and vice versa—would have approached this island.
And as you might expect, the character development is somewhat lacking. Most everyone plays to the stereotype: The TV producer who cares only about ratings, not one whit for the human beings she lives with, the conniving mustache-twirling villain, the blockhead soldier, the oblivious scientist who lets his fascination lead to his death, and so on. Not to mention the Skipper, Gilligan, and Marianne. (I’m only half-joking.)
You won’t read this for a discussion of the philosophy of science or a good debate over man’s place in the universe. You will read it for the fast-paced action scenes and the fascinating flora and fauna of Henders Island.