Book Review: Fragment, by Warren Fahey

Delacorte Press
356 pp.

Fragment: A Novel“Mysterious” lost in time secret continents, civilizations and creatures were once a staple of early science fiction. As more of the world became less “mysterious,” the creation of these lost and hidden worlds-within-worlds became less frequent–it being much easier to arrange strange worlds and fantastic creatures on other worlds than our own. (No, Jurassic Park doesn’t count as a “lost world,” since it was deliberately created.) Therefore, I was a little skeptical that Warren Fahey would be able to pull off the venerable (and extremely tricky to engineer in this day and age) “lost world.”

For the most part I think he manages to pull it off. (Even if he did have a slightly annoying tendency to bounce around like a hyper ten year old amateur paleontologist declaring in narrative that he used real science to come up with the lost world in question, and he wasn’t writing Island of the Kaiju.) The basic worldbuilding behind this is that there’s a remote, unexplored island that because of its remoteness and it’s rather unique geology has been evolving in parallel to the rest of the world for a billion years. The ecosystem created in this tiny “world in a bottle” is full of strange, alien creatures that, because of population pressures and extreme competition spend most of their time eating each other, or avoiding being eaten. (All species even the plant analogs are predatory, all of them reproduce at an insane rate, and all of them are extremely invasive–basically, a miniature hell-world.) Another major part of the world building and plot is that there have been recent earth quakes leading to the “bug jar” the ecosystem exists in to start escaping.

Exploring this bug-jar island is a film crew and a group of young scientists from a “reality TV” show called Sea Life. After seeing an emergency signal from a remote island called Henders, which they discover has never been completely explored, so they decide to check things out. They are expecting to find a few new species, since Henders Island hasn’t been explored since 1791. What they don’t expect to find is an entirely different ecosystem that promptly eats a large number of the crew. This catapults the tiny island in the spot light, particularly when it’s discovered how extremely dangerous this wild life is to earth species, particularly the ones that are known to be the most invasive and persistent when let loose in a new environment. Still, there is some ethical debate about actively seeking to destroy it, despite the fact that it’s extremely hostile to ordinary Earth life, so two other scientists join the research team to make their own assessments.

While all this is going on, it’s eventually revealed that the emergency signal was deliberately set off, and that whatever set it off wasn’t human–and also not by accident. This is also somewhat a First Contact novel, though the intelligent species encountered isn’t from outer space. A tiny community of sapient beings live on the island, and one of them deliberately set off the signal in hopes of making contact. (It’s also responsible for rescuing one of the crew members and a dog belonging to another crew member.) Unlike the rest of the wildlife on the tiny island, it’s a friendly, amiable being who is apparently the equivalent of an amateur anthropologist called Hender. (It’s not really clear if it calls itself Hender, or if the crew member decided to “name” it Hender. It collects human artifacts that wash up on the shore, and carefully sorts everything it finds by function and by the writing.) It’s part of a loosely tied community of five individuals who vary somewhat in shape. (Who each speak their own language and appear to have their own culture.) They are very friendly, and don’t share the more homicidal/hyperactive mode of existence of most of the life on the island because they have extremely good camouflage abilities–they are quite capable of literally “disappearing.” (What I liked was that the friendliness wasn’t portrayed as “simple natives,” it felt very much that the way the creatures thought was that “if you can talk to it, you can cooperate with it, therefore it’s a friend.”)

This discovery is greeted with amazement by most of the crew, except for one of the scientists, a sour, unpleasant individual who is the author’s representation of “ecologist who wants to destroy human race because they are destroying the environment.” This individual is horrified at the notion of non-human intelligence and suborns one of the soldiers present in order to smuggle some of the lethal wild life on board the ship. (Which are killed off by the sapients in short order.) He also attempts to instigate an attack against the “hendropods” which is what the sapient islanders are dubbed. There is eventually a happy ending where the sapients have been rescued, the bad guy scientist has been killed by the wildlife, and the island has been nuked into glass.

I enjoyed the book, but I felt it was too short, and rushed in places. It’s a good action and adventure piece, but in some respects, also slightly disappointing. I felt as if the writer was going for something he wanted to pitch as a movie, and that he spent too much time feeding the humans to the wild life, and not developing the sapients more. (Some Hender point of view scenes would have been nice, since the plotline revolves around the fact that he deliberately set off the emergency signal. He’s an awesome character, even with the little bit that’s shown, but I wanted more. I also wish the writer had worked on developing and portraying the budding friendship between Nell and Hender, and her relationship/romance with Geoffrey. There was some good imagery, but again, I wanted more.)

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Filed under book, first contact, lost world, near future, Review: Book, science fiction, Warren Fahey

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