It is a reluctant way to start a review talking about what something isn’t, but this is bugging me. I’ve seen it in almost all of the reviews. It was what drove me to read FRAGMENT, a debut novel from newcomer Warren Fahy, in the first place. But it’s just not true.
FRAGMENT is nothing like a Michael Crichton novel. I can see why the lazy comparison would be made if all one knew of the book was the plot, but anyone who has read the whole thing surely must see how different they are. Scientists discover an uncharted island. Untouched since the dawn of life, the island has evolved an entire ecosystem unlike anything else on Earth. Everything in it is ludicrously lethal, as the first party from a reality TV show about scientists on the high seas soon find out.
Now before I level out why the two writers are different, let me disclaim that I enjoyed FRAGMENT, because what follows is going to sound like an evisceration. FRAGMENT reads like a half-finished manuscript Michael Crichton might write to give his editor for a taste, but that’s where the comparison ends as. Warren Fahy has no slavish devotion to science or at times even logic, placing his book far closer to fantasy than even the most speculative of science fiction. His scientists, several of which are supposed to be the best in their field, are often times complete morons. All of his characters are written with the depth of a contact lens. His monsters, which are the centerpiece of FRAGMENT, are all the kind of hybrid animal one would get if they asked an 8 year old to draw the perfect killing machine.
Take for example the spiger, which is three times the size of a tiger with eight legs, two of which are identical to praying mantis forearms, and has a tail that can launch it into the air. Or the disk-ants (though it has zero ant like properties), a hard shelled creature that rolls around the jungle/beach melting pray with the billions of nano-disk-ant colonies that live on its back. I know Michael Crichton’s novels got progressively more outlandish as they went along, but they were never that mindless.
And yet I liked FRAGMENT as a whole. The first half of the book is little more than the island being discovered and the subsequent carnage that follows when people keep underestimating the ludicrous killing powers of Hender’s Island, so named after the one person to have ever documented the isolated jut of rock. Scene after scene reads like the book equivalent of the insect pit in Peter Jackson’s KING KONG, but just as events threaten to get too repetitive the author brings a few new characters to the island while discovering a few more secrets held within.
There are times Fahy tries to go into painstaking scientific detail, but because his plot and abominations are so far flung, it’s all read with no appreciation for whatever science may actually back it. However around the novel’s saving grace midpoint Fahy backs away from the pseudo science and dives head first into genuinely thought provoking arguements for and against man’s responsibility (which is the sole Crichton-esque element to the story) should they discover the one remain spec of Mother Nature man has yet to meddle with.
It doesn’t get preachy or overtly obvious but this home stretch is the only thing that makes the rest of the novel worthwhile. Fahy has no outstanding gift for prose, but that also makes FRAGMENT a very, very quick read even at near 400 pages. He also proves to have a green thumb for harvesting an otherwise insoluable plot, eventually wasting little time with the how and why of things and focusing on the conflict of containing the near plague like qualities of life on Hender’s Island. It’s certainly not a book to recommend to anyone with scholarly pursuits, but it’s the perfect kind of book to throw in a backpack before a trip to the beach.