Saturday, December 24, 2011

Catching up...

In the past couple of weeks, I've read two novels by Douglas Preston, Impact (2010, Forge Books; 368 pages) and Blasphemy (2008, Forge Books; 416 pages).

Impact starts out following three apparently separate stories, a meteor (or is it meteorite? I never can remember which is before it hits and which is after it impacts the earth) impact off the coast of Maine and a young woman's search for the remnants of the space rock because she knows how much it is worth; the search in Cambodia for the source of some radioactive gems; and the murder of a space scientist and his protege's investigation of what the scientist had been working on, the source of gamma rays that seemed to be coming from Mars, somewhere they should not have been originating. As it turns out, all three situations are part of the same story, and getting to the bottom of it all includes a boat chase in a storm, an encounter with a former Khmer Rouge leader, and the possibility of an alien threat to Earth. If it all sounds sort of silly stated this way, the story is interesting and it certainly kept me turning the pages, and I would recommend it to someone who is looking for a good adventure to read on a cold winter's night.

Blasphemy is a techno-thriller, in which a team of scientists have constructed a super-computer in a cavern on a mesa on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. But they're having trouble getting the computer up and running, and the president's science advisor has sent Wyman Ford, who was looking for radioactive gems in Impact, out to find out why it is taking so long to get the project on track. Meanwhile, one of the scientists on the team leaves the project mysteriously and then kills himself out in the desert, and some fundamentalist Christians have decided that the leader of the project is the Antichrist and must be stopped at all costs. The Navajo aren't happy with the project either, after many of the promises made to them in return for building the computer on their land have not been honored.

There is a lot more substance to Blasphemy than there is to Impact, as Blasphemy raises some tough issues about things like the nature of religion and of science, when does religious devotion cross the line into terrorism, and did god create the universe, or did humans create both god and religion? I wouldn't recommend Blasphemy to anyone who is offended by the portrayal of a certain wing of fundamentalist Christianity as fanaticism that could easily devolve into mob violence. Nonetheless, I would recommend it as an exciting story that takes some surprising turns.

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