August 19, 2004

Idlewild, by Nick Sagan

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by a representative of Penguin Books (Penguin Books! How cool is that?) whether I'd like to review a new science fiction novel by Nick Sagan, son of the famous Carl Sagan. It sounded interesting, so I said OK. My only concern was that the book was a sequel to Sagan's first book, which I'd not read. He responded by sending me both books, for which I am truly grateful.

I admit I opened the book with some trepidation--Sagan has a famous name, sure, but can he tell a story? Turns out he can, and with style. He begins with the hoary-but-effective plot contrivance, the man with amnesia. Our hero wakes up, injured and alone, and unable to remember where he is, how he got hurt, or his own name. Bits of memory begin to creep back as he explores his surroundings--his quite remarkably outré surroundings. He lives in a house shaped like a cathedral, complete with gargoyles; he is served by nightgaunts; his name, apparently, is "Halloween." And it's almost certain that someone is trying to kill him.

Meanwhile, a global pandemic is raging, and people are dying in vast numbers. The killer is a virus called Black Ep, it's invariably fatal, and there's no known cure. Worse, it has an incubation period of years, and is highly contagious, so virtually everyone on the planet has it. A small team is working against time on a scheme to defeat the virus and preserve mankind from extinction.

And how are these two disparate plot elements related? Therein hangs the tale, which I won't spoil for you.

As I say, Sagan's a good storyteller; he kept me interested and turning pages, not an easy feat with four kids in the house and the Olympics on TV. If I have a complaint, it's that there's little here that I haven't seen before. Even if he built the story from familiar parts, though, the resulting edifice still has a number of striking features and surprises, and there are a number of absolutely images. I particularly enjoyed it when Halloween throws a luau and has nightgaunts in Hawaiian shirts passing out the drinks and canapés. And if I'm occasionally reminded of Roger Zelazny, or Greg Bear, or even Stephen King, I suppose that's no bad thing in a first novel.

Posted by Will Duquette at August 19, 2004 08:38 PM

Craig Clarke said:

Many congrats on the Penguin connection. It's a sign of the true quality of your work.

Will Duquette said: