Thursday, 24 February 2011

Meteor, Right? [Reviews: Nemesis and Wormwood]

While I love gung-ho tales of brave oil miners being drafted into the astronaut core and nuking meteorites, giving their lives so that their colleagues can marry Liv Tyler, I'm pleased to report that, at least in written sci-fi, there are some excellent novels that take the meteorite theme somewhere a bit more original.

Bill Napier's novel of asteroid deflection, nuclear stand-offs and medieval heliocentrists, Nemesis, may not be the most accurate depiction of this topic: but it certainly feels like it. The CIA has brought together a group of world-class scientists to form a secret think tank, as they suspect an asteroid has been diverted towards Earth by the Soviets. Up against the clock, the scientists' main challenge is to actually find the asteroid, and tensions rise as they theorise and try out different strategies - while most of the team focus on different telescopes, Webb, the hero, wonders whether the asteroid might have been sighted historically and starts a search for a 17th century manuscript he suspects is the key. Meanwhile the military engage in larger and larger simulations of the impact, and international tensions rise as leaders debate a nuclear response to the attack. Impressively, the scientific, political and military strands are all convincing and while the initial scenario is similar to that of Meteor or Armageddon, the plot develops from pure disaster novel into a much murkier political thriller.

Wormwood, by author of Shadowmancer G.P. Taylor, features a comet bound for Earth, again apparently predicted in an ancient tome. The setting is London, 1756, and the comet is identified by Dr. Sabian Blake, a scientist with alchemical and spiritual leanings very much in the Newton mould. The story is told from several viewpoints but the two main characters are Blake and his thieving housemaid Agetta. It quickly becomes clear this is no scientific romance but a dark tale of Kabbalistic sorcery, ghosts and fallen angels: the comet is the focus for a series of paranormal events and horrors.

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