douglas preston

Relic

relicI finished Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child this week.  I am aware that basically every other reader on the planet has already read it at least once.  It was first published in 1995, which was a few years back. In the 2000s, I remember my household reading through all of the Preston & Child books that had been published; I think there were seven or eight books at that point.  I know that I started to read this book a number of times, but never finished it. I honestly do not remember why.  However this attempt to finish the book took about a year. I re-started it in July of 2020. 

Let us be honest, we’re all friends here, right?  If a novel takes two or three times to get through, aside from extraordinary life situations, maybe the book just is not as good as we want it to be.  Or, perhaps, we just really do not enjoy reading some specific element of the novel – be it setting, plot, genre, etc.  I am glad I read through it finally. I am going to say that it is probably a 3.5 star read. I will end up giving it 4 stars, but no matter how many things I praise about the novel, there is the glaring “well, it only took me a year to read through it….. this time….” problem.

I think one of my attempts to read the novel ended before I even got to meet the special star, Agent Pendergast.  He only first appears on page 78.  That being said, he has a very favorable entrance into the story and he is definitely an intriguing and likeable character.  He is also kept a bit of an enigma throughout the book – a bit of a mysterious personality to add to the overall mystery.  Honestly, this character is the main reason I will, at some point, read further in this series.  I do wonder how much mileage Pendergast will have – do readers get tired and aggravated with him?

Anyway, the rest of the characters are very obviously good guys or bad guys.  Character development is not strong here.  The supporting rôle characters, D’Agosta and Margo, are major characters in the story, but they are so obvious about everything.  D’Agosta is the police officer who originally is called to the Museum for the situation and who originally is working alongside Pendergast.  Eventually, D’Agosta has a rather heroic rôle and he gets a happy ending.  He is the stereotype of the grouchy, tough, veteran NYC cop. Margo is one of two female characters (the other is really a hideous thing) in the novel. Margo Green starts the novel off – she is the more mundane character we are to feel sympathy for and who seems swept up in the chaos.  Try as you like, Margo just isn’t very engaging. Her rôle here is to give a perspective in order to balance Pendergast and D’Agosta.  Though I think we ought to like her, she is just too cardboard and inconsequential.

The setting is the real star.  The New York Museum of Natural History as a setting would delight any reader, I think, in any genre. The setting is a super great choice because it contains the whole plot to a limited zone, but yet, it is a huge zone with many exterior connections.  It is also a location many people are familiar with and it contains great contrast of the ancient and the cutting edge.  As far as the pacing, there is a lot of backstory and, honestly, at points it really does drag on slowly.  If I had to guess, the pacing would have been the main reason I failed to get through this novel previously. There is a lot of backstory and not all of it is very interesting.  In fact some of it is tedious.  There is a scientific theory used here that Child used in Terminal Freeze, viz the Callisto effect. The first time I read it (in that book) it was interesting, now I am desensitized to it. I guess, like everyone else, I should have read Relic first?

So, while I have some complaints, I do not think this is a bad novel. I remember 1995, this was surely an excellent bestseller then. Now that we have the internet and we are all experts in absolutely everything, maybe it seems a little less amazing.  However, this is a pretty good summertime read.  I do not know if it is an adventure novel or a mystery novel…. I think it gets placed in that strange and unclear “thriller” genre.  

It took me a year to get through this:  I cannot exactly say that this book was edge of the seat reading. There are rewards if the reader pushes through all of the talking, the backstory, and the ill-tempered characters.  I can recommend it to fans of monsters, fans of evolutionary biology, and general readers.

4 stars 

Blasphemy & Contest

Blasphemy

Blasphemy

The computer blew up. So I read some books.

The first novel I read was Douglas Preston’s Blasphemy. It was published in 2008.

The quick synopsis is:  The world’s biggest supercollider, locked in an Arizona mountain, was built to reveal the secrets of the very moment of creation: the Big Bang itself.  It is the most expensive machine ever created by humankind, run by the world’s most powerful supercomputer. It is the brainchild of Nobel Laureate William North Hazelius. Will the machine divulge the mysteries of the creation of the universe? Or will it, as some predict, suck the earth into a mini black hole? Or is it a Satanic attempt, as a powerful televangelist decries, to challenge God Almighty on the very throne of Heaven?

Well, I find the supercollider stuff interesting. (I like particle physics.) I also tend to “research” religion.  So, after buying the book at a library book sale for $1.00, I was all set to read it (with ample time due to the computer death of ’09).  This was the first book by Preston that I attempted to read – I have not read (though I own) the Preston & Child novels.

Its a fairly quick read. It takes place in Arizona and a large portion of the novel attempts to situate the story among native americans (Navajo).  I am not all that interested in (a.) Arizona; (b.) native american culture. So, I plodded through those parts. The story was pretty good, I suppose, but just not great. It could have had a lot more science and a lot less native american. There are some scenes that would be great for a movie – for example, the religious fundamentalist fanatics converging on the supercollider grounds would be an awesome sight. Still, it was pretty obvious what the outcome of the story would be. Too obvious. Its easy to guess who’s going to do what and where and how and why.  I didn’t build any affinity toward the main character. There is a strong suggestion that religion and politics tend to feed off of each other and stalemate science, but as for “ripping the toga off of God” – not so much. Its not a controversial novel.

2 stars

Contest

Contest

The other book I read before the resurrection of the computer was Contest by Matthew Reilly.  The back reads:
Dr. Stephen Swain has found himself locked in the after-hours darkness of the New York Public Library. It isn’t a mistake. He’s been entombed in the historic sanctuary for a reason—as the guest of an unknown host, chosen for a night of fun and games. He’s unprepared. He’s afraid. And he’s not alone. Six other contestants roam the black halls, room by room, floor by floor, in the dead silence. Each strapped with an explosive set to detonate should they escape before the night is over. The terms are simple: seven players enter—only one will leave.

I believe that this is Reilly’s first novel. It was published by Macmillan in 2000. He purposefully writes action stories that are supposed to be fast-paced. For example, the main character’s wife is dead. We don’t learn anything else about her or her death or whatever so the story isn’t bogged down with irrelevant backstory. What the reader needs to know are just the facts that represent the play-by-play. And even though we do not develop any deep relationship-bond with any of the characters, the reader can still enjoy the plot. Unfortunately, there are some writing choices that don’t make much sense. Reilly focuses on about 3 of the 7 contestants. The other 4 are brief mentions, rare appearances, and drive-by events. This makes the reader wonder – if Reilly wanted to write a fast-paced book and only wanted to deal with 4 or 5 characters, why have so many contestants? Also, it annoyed me that the selection of the library for the place of the contest was random. I felt there should have been a reason given as to why it was selected over many other “labyrinths.”

None of the above really bothered me. What bothered me were the aliens. Yes. Aliens. So you think you’re reading something out of a true crime, police procedural, mystery novel – and then BAM! – aliens. And not a nice variety of them either. The contestants are all aliens and are nothing but beastly monsters. They aren’t really killers, they just maul their prey in bloodbaths. I wasn’t real happy to be reading sci-fi suddenly. I love sci-fi. But I didn’t pick a sci-fi book on purpose.

2 stars