This first novel from Mr. Watson is an old Victorian explorer novel archetype – like Haggard or Conan-Doyle – where a band of explorers find strange and unexpected things in an isolated part of the world. This is the backbone. The story is fleshed out with elements of Michael Crichton (who loved stories about technology’s impact and was noted for his research), Isaac Asimov (who wrote strong stories about how engineers and practical people interacted with the sci-fi future) and just about every major thriller writer who dabbled in how the plucky heroes deal with Government, for good or ill. Plus a generous dose of Harlequin Romances.
The plot revolves around a research expedition to a remote island in the Azores. There to perform studies related to their PhD theses on volcanos, the group of students, a thesis advisor, a last-minute captain and a stowaway, are sidetracked by a mysterious explosion, and the appearance of strange rocks that appear to have peculiar properties. I believe it is no spoiler to say that these rocks are not what they seem, the US and UK Govenment ride in with a warship, and there are passages where the personalities take a backseat to science, ecology, politics, nano-technology (whispers of MC’s “Prey” can already be heard among the club). More cannot be revealed without telegraphing substantial developments in the plot.
“Geonesis” is a self-published novel, and benefits and suffers from this one fact. It was clearly a labour of love from Mr. Watson, and in today’s fierce book-publishing market where piles of worthy manuscripts never even get read by a scout, it’s no surprise that self-publishing is a route taken by some. It’s relatively cheap, it aspires to no great audience, and it is better than a tattered printout somewhere that no-one will ever read.
Where it suffers is in the kind of first-novel mistakes that a more seasoned, less emotionally invested editor would have pruned or corrected. Adverbs abound, characters are superficial at best, speak unrealistically about personal events and in the first part of the book, seem to be introduced at the whim of plot. There are a few spelling mistakes, grammatical mistakes and uneven plot lines which often confuse. There is no one central character, but the point of view keeps jumping from one person to the next, somethimes between one paragraph and another. Romance and sex are handled in what can at best be described as childish. And characterization lacks subtlety, depth or complexity: each character in the story is given one major defining trait and more or less stays there: Mary’s independence, Doug’s grief, Joby’s playfulness, Cat’s confusion…but that’s more or less it.
Mr. Watson shines – as Crichton did – in his science. There’s no question he loves and knows what he is writing about, and throwaway details are always interesting (the whole business about the gekko’s feet is a good example). What he lacks is presentation, a way to thrillingly bring this alive in the mind of the reader, and the often stilted dialogue does much to undermine the fascination of his central thesis. Too many extraneous threads are introduced that interrupt his narrative flow – worst are the shipboard romances and whininess of the Beresfords, which are key to derailing what should be a terrific premise and story, and distracting the reader. Crichton and Asimov, who both shared this flaw, got around it by concentrating fiercely on the science – here, this is not the case.
To its credit, the strength of the story transcends most of these weaknesses. As Curt noted, it started self-consciously and then got into its flow. It’s interesting, if nothing else, and tackles a subject not often seen, not often examined in this realistic kind of setting. The themes one can take from it will undoubtedly make for good discussion.
As an editor, my advice would be to correct the obvious flaws, proof more rigourously and keep going until it’s right. As a reader, my feeling is that Mr. Watson will – and should – publish more, but sincerely hope he will develop more polish and a stronger sense of pace and character in the work going forward.
Last note: Shoemaker-Levy did not crash into Saturn but into Jupiter.