Friday, September 7, 2007

Mars Hill Classified, Part I

Title: The Evidence

Series: Mars Hill Classified #1

Author: Austin Boyd

Genre: Adult Near-future Science-fiction

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of The Evidence:

Thursday, March 10, 2011: Carp, Nevada

A cloud of white dust rose behind a tractor-trailer as it cut across the sagebrush plains of Nevada’s high desert. The truck moved slower than the narrow dirt road demanded but fast enough for the nervous driver, picking his way down the private ranch lane. Ahead, foothills rose from the desert floor and swallowed the road in the distance. The truck and its occupants, anxious for dusk, chased a retreating sun.

The sun began to settle as the driver reached the foothills and eased the rig back into a dry canyon. He climbed out of the cab and checked the road behind him. He was alone.

Five minutes after his arrival, the trailer was disconnected and he was on his way. Behind him, the unmanned refrigeration trailer remained hidden between steep rock walls. By the time he joined the main highway, the last remnants of the sun had disappeared beyond the foothills, shrouding the trailer in darkness.

Five hours later, a light plane approached from the south. Flying low, a twin-engine Beechcraft circled southeast of the canyon. Two passengers maintained surveillance of the canyon mouth with night-vision equipment and telephoto cameras.

“Trailer’s in sight,” said the passenger in the rear seat, dressed in camouflage and armed with a nightscope to pick out the trailer against the backdrop of rock. His face was nondescript in the eerie green glow of the night-vision device.

The pilot nodded and made a quick radio call. “Lima 42 has traffic in sight. Ready for vectors.”

The reply was immediate. “Roger, Lima 42. Stand by, fifteen seconds.”

A quarter of a minute later, the sky northwest of the aircraft erupted in a searing, white-orange flash.

An astronaut and his wife seek to follow God’s will amidst domestic terrorism, a struggling space program, and the evidence of aliens on Mars.

The Writing: What a pleasure to read! The writing of The Evidence is not perfect, but it’s a large cut above what I’ve been reading of late.

The plot is not the gut-wrenching, “I’ve got to find out what happens next now!” type, like was employed in the Dominion Trilogy by Robin Parrish. But its pace is plenty fast, with tension that builds and builds and builds, and what it lacks in speed Mr. Boyd makes up in intricacy.

Somehow all the facts are presented in a straightforward, chronological manner—granting the reader far more information than any one character has—but despite that, everything is so layered that you are left wondering what just happened. You instinctively know all the pieces fit together, but how—ah! That’s the big question.

However, all this complexity means many foundations must be laid to make it work, which contributes to a slower beginning—up to half the book before the plot reaches full-steam. That can be daunting, but it’s well worth the wait. Like the pull up a roller-coaster’s first hill, Mr. Boyd is only ramping up for a steeper drop and more complex twists.

Like the plot, the characters are also quite deep and true to life. You care about the characters, feel their agony, and cheer them on through their challenges. Maybe not the best-friend types that you’ll follow through a bad plot, but I can easily imagine sitting down with John Wells and the other protagonists for a quiet dinner.

The point of view (POV) are a mixed bag. Not straight forward or hopelessly scrambled, The Evidence’s viewpoints mix omniscient narrator with a large core group of POV characters (where you enter their minds). The breaks between these viewpoints are clearly delineated, and there is no head-hopping within a scene, as far as I’m aware of. Nonetheless they can be confusing, especially at first, because of the sheer number of characters to keep straight. This also contributes to the slower opening that I mentioned earlier, and at times creates a choppy reading experience, since at high tension points you can be covering four or five view points during a very short time period.

The details and descriptions are, well, detailed, probably due to the life experience Mr. Boyd brings to this book. Yet those descriptions do not slow the plotting down as a whole, and they provide a very realistic and plausible air to the book. And while I could not begin to grasp everything—being technically challenged—I expect that the mechanical and science-minded will find his details a veritable feast.

The Story: The Christianity of The Evidence rings loud and clear without being preachy, tying directly into the outcome of events. This easily ranks in my top ten examples of how faith and fiction should intersect.

In addition, difficult topics are handled in a respectful—and clean—manner. No direct swearing, no sex scenes (even though sexual temptation is touched on). There is violence—terrorism is one of the main topics—but the descriptions are kept to a minimum and are usually (though not always) done from an omniscient POV, which provides some emotional distance.

Summary: The Evidence isn’t a book for a quick afternoon's read. But if you will settle in for a slightly longer than normal haul, allowing yourself time to absorb the details, your patience will be well-rewarded. Due to some of the topics, I would suggest holding this book back for older teens (15+) and adults. But otherwise it’s well worth the time for any science-fiction or suspense reader, especially guys and the technically minded.

Rating: 4.4 of 5

Can't wait to read The Evidence? Order now.

(Click to see reviews for Book 2 and Book 3.)


Becky said...

OK, it's getting a little eerie. I wrote my review today without having read yours. Let's just say, we must read the same way.

I didn't mention the spiritual aspect and should have. It fit so naturally into the story I sort of forgot about it, but when talking about Christian fiction, it's an important point.

Well done, Chawna.


Becky said...

Excellent review of The Evidence, Chawna. I think you liked it a little better than I did. The many pov shifts kept me from connecting with the characters until late, late in the game. Still I liked it; it was by no means a boring read!