Saturday, October 29, 2011

Book Review: Heaven's Shadow by David Goyer and Michael Cassutt

Heaven's Shadow By David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt
398 pages
Ace Hardcover

The Big Dumb Object sub-genre of Science fiction was the cornerstone of Arthur C. Clarke's fiction(although his best novel Songs of Distant Earth was not in it). He was the master because he was a great storyteller who was not afraid to tell a story with a mystical mystery component but he also knew science. I think it takes some serious nads to get in this ring and try to tell this kind of story in a novel form. The science and details are far more forgiving in a film so I was surprised when two writers known more for film and TV set out to do it.

Goyer is known as a Screenwriter (Blade, batman begins) and director (The Unborn,Blade 3) and his Partner Cassutt (Twilight Zone) had developed the story as a film treatment. I don't work for NASA or know a lot about that world so I can only say that the details seem well researched, and with that element in place I was ready for a wild Sci-fi ride.

The story takes place three years after a Near Earth Object (thought to be a comet or space) is seen heading towards earth. Two space programs are competing to land on the object first. Once they get there the mystery slowly unravels and we discover that of course it's some kind of starship. Don't worry these are not bumpy headed Trek aliens, the authors do a good job of not anthropomorphizing the alien life forms or their technology which is thousands of years beyond ours.

The characters are well defined and introduced with a economy of story time, I would myself caring for them and generally being concerned. I am trying to be general about the plot because I think you are better served going in as blank as possible. I had one small nitpick with the novel that I will address in at the end of this review.

I am a fan of Goyer's writing, enjoyed a talk he gave at a screenwriting conference (in 2003) and was excited to see what he did with the novel form. In much the same fan his one time collaborator Guillermo Del Toro did when he wrote his strain trilogy. You can sense the film just under the surface, mostly in the way the stories cut and weave. The no non-sense approach to the story telling. Heaven's shadow doesn't waste a lot of time with internal monologues and the cuts in the action are pure screenwriting.

That's not a negative. Perhaps the only book I read recently that flowed the same way was Hogan and Del Toro's second book the Fall. The chapter breaks are perfect, and the the various plot threads are paced apart to keep tension high. I saw a review where a reader complained that after a cliffhanger end to a chapter they had to read through four chapters to find out what happened next. Of course the other four threads will building at the same time. That is on purpose ding-a-ling. That's why you read sixty pages of this book without realizing that time flew by.

This is an excellent addition to the the Big Dumb Object genre and my favorite Sci-fi novel I have read so far this year. The authors have built groundwork for a trilogy that cannot stay in the same sub-genre. That's great I am excited to see these characters again and the different direction the story will have to go into. The only real flaw with the novel is something I can see them fixing in the second or the third book. I was thinking it was spoiler, but frankly it's on the dust jacket of the book so...

Like many others who read the book I have a hard time excepting the fact that the aliens feel they need to contact humans for any reason. I am hoping the second book will explain why in the second book because to me it's still mystery. Is that a nitpick or not? I can't tell until I read book two, and that is already on my list.

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