Home > Book, Genre, Review, scifi > Book Review: Mark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden by Chris R. McCarthy

Book Review: Mark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden by Chris R. McCarthy

Book Review: Mark of the Harbinger: Fall of Eden by Chris R. McCarthySummary:
Humanity, desperate to save themselves from oncoming meteors that will destroy Earth, builds two spaceships and binds them together into one unit.  They fill it with the best and brightest of humanity then send it off into space, with nanobots working to keep them all perpetually the same age they were when entering the ship, hoping that they will find another habitable planet.  But over the thousands of years of searching, the two ships have slowly evolved into one of beauty, order, and plenty of food.  The other has become a prison ship, full of starvation and degradation.  Both ruled by an artificial intelligence known as Ark.  When a man awakes on the prison ship, he must discover who he is and why he has been awakened.

Review:
The basic idea of a ship full of thousands of people wandering outer space for thousands of years and how that impacts their culture is a good one.  But it is unfortunately supported by weak characterization, quite a bit of telling instead of showing (often in the form a conversational infodump), questionable science, and aggravating plot twists.

I am not a scifi reader who expects everything to be Asimov or heavy on the science.  I enjoy the broad range that scifi has to offer.  But I do expect a scifi that takes itself seriously, as this one does, to have: a plot that makes sense, at least two characters who are well-rounded and richly presented, and any science within it to be accurate or at least plausible.  This scifi definitely takes itself seriously, but it fails on these marks.

The book opens with a first person narration of the nameless hero (later named Harbinger) believing he is being dissected by an alien race.  It takes quite a bit of time to find out that he was cryogenically frozen on this ship, and the rebels of the prison ship have woken him up.  If this wasn’t a review copy, I probably would have given up before Harbinger figures this out, because the reader has zero reason to care about this character who is being dissected, apparently.  It’s quite jarring to open up the book that way, and it’s hard to read with no investment in any of the characters at all.  It’s a rough beginning.

Harbinger has amnesia, so he can’t help the rebels figure out why exactly he was on the ship.  But they do discover that he has superhuman powers, just as the rebels were hoping, so they want him to help them fight for access back to Echelon–the ship that is not a prison  (There are names for both ships, but I honestly can’t remember what the name of the prison ship was.)  The rebel character who works closest with Harbinger is a woman named Leema.  Harbinger gets slightly more characterization than Leema, because we are inside his head.  But both come across as flat. Their actions appear to exist entirely as plot devices and not out of real, rich motivation.  For instance, Leema seems mostly to exist to give Harbinger information, to have sex with, then to spur him to make certain decision.  She doesn’t come across as a person so much as a plot device.  The same can be said for the leader of the rebels, Argus, an older man who calls people “son.”  He simply does not feel real.  He feels like a plot device who pops in whenever it’s necessary to make something happen to Harbinger.

The writing often relies on conversational infodump, which is a shame, because when there are action sequences, they are interesting and exciting.  The periodic action sequences are what kept me reading.  They are well-written, particularly the fight scenes.  But when the characters talk, the conversation doesn’t feel real.  It feels like the author is speaking directly to the reader through the characters, often to provide background information.  This is known as an infodump, and it’s frustrating to read.  It would be better to work this information into the plot, rather than have characters sit in a room and say it at each other for chapters at a time.

The science is a bit shaky.  For instance, the spaceship is decorated with marble.  Real marble.  Real marble is incredibly heavy, and there’s a weight limit that spaceships can handle.  It’s hard to imagine a people desperate to save humanity from meteors wasting precious weight space on marble decorations.  Similarly, Harbinger is never fully explained.  He appears to be human and bleeds but can’t feel pain, has superhuman strength, can only be killed by cutting off his head.  Is he a robot? Or a genetically modified humanoid? Maybe a clone?  Leema explains “his kind” being created but she seems to know very little about it, which makes it odd that she and the rebels knew enough to know how to break him free from Ark by cutting into him and adjusting things inside his body.  The core of the idea is good but it’s just not explained enough. That is really what makes some of the science in the book weak.  It’s not gone into in enough depth to make enough sense.

Finally, the plot makes quite a few quick zany twists, most of which I was willing to give a pass.  The final twist, however, made me want to throw my kindle against the wall.  (I didn’t, because I like my kindle).  I’m sure the final plot twist was intended to make the reader want to continue on to the next book in the series, but it actually just left me feeling deeply unsatisfied and frustrated.  If I had to put my finger on what made it so frustrating, I’d say that it felt forced, not organic.

Overall, this book consists of a good basic idea that suffers from infodumping, weak characters, and being forced to stick to a plot that doesn’t feel organic.  Rich characters who drove an organic plot free of infodumps could have made this into an interesting world and cultural exploration.  Instead, it’s a frustrating read.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

Buy It

Advertisements
  1. August 13, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    How disappointing! I love good world-building, so info dumps and implausible can really ruin a book for me.

    • August 14, 2015 at 3:46 pm

      Yeah, I think info dumps might rank above even love triangles on the how much it irritates me scale.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: