Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Review of Offworld by Robin Parrish

Something is wrong with the world.

It's July 4, 2033 and Commander Christopher Burke and his crew have just returned to Earth from the first manned mission to Mars - only to find humanity missing. They've been away for more than two years and now it appears everyone, everywhere, is offworld.

Months prior to their return strange happenings occur around the globe - a T-Rex stomps out of a cave in France and vanishes, Flamingos turn from pink to blue and back again in a Denver zoo, a lake in New Zealand appears then disappears.

Then, humanity vanishes. Burke and his three crew mates are thrust into a new mission: to discover who or what is behind the disappearance of ten billion people.

~*~
This is the premise behind the latest novel by Robin Parrish, also the author of the Dominion Trilogy. Parrish is a competent author - a solid story teller, character developer, and vivid "imagineer." He blends elements of science fiction, superhero action, and fantasy into a contemporary fiction typical of what's currently on the shelves at your local B&N. (Think M. Night Shyamalan meets The X-Files meets The Avengers.) Offworld competes nicely with other titles by name brand authors and I'm betting that with his next novel he will make the jump from the Religious Fiction section (where I found him at my local big box) to the regular shelves (where, btw, Jeffrey Overstreet and Donita K. Paul recently moved).

However, Parrish has a few plotting dangers to watch out for, in my opinion. The first one has to do with the theme itself. People disappearing? Yawn. The idea didn't grab me. I'd read On the Beach (a classic), I avoided Left Out or Get Behind or whatever (not a classic), and I hate dream stories ("and then I woke up"). So I was a bit skeptical going in. Don't get me wrong, I liked the book. I'm happy to report (non-spoiler alert) that the plot has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, the rapture, or cannabis. And although not terribly original nor completely satisfying, the mystery revealed in the somewhat longish denouement at least tied the story together.

Another weakness (again, imo, as I'm sure some readers love this part) is the action sequences. Some parts read like a beat-em-up-smash-em-up car chase that might translate well on film but had me skimming during what was supposed to drive the final climax of the story. When I find myself flipping to the explanation (give me the reveal already!) then that's a sure sign I've lost interest. I'm usually a word by word reader and I measure the quality of the story on how many times I start skimming. Offworld lost me on only two or three occasions, so that translates to pretty good overall.

The author's strength is character driven stories - good people with angst set in compelling situations with enough reality based conflict to give the fantastical elements of the story their appeal. I like spec fic but I like good characters and story telling best. And Parrish delivers. This is a clean, non-religious but spiritually themed novel by a writer who happens to be a Christian rather than a writer trying to spin a 'Christian' novel.

Recommended read if you like this style.
Rated 7 of 10.
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