Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: The Finger of God by Keith Williams

A retired Astronaut who once called the International Space Station home, Jordie MacAlister now spends his days in a different kind of isolation, sequestered away on the West Coast of Scotland and mourning the death of his wife after an inoperable brain tumour. Furthering his woe, he discovers his time in space has severely weakened his heart, thus curtailing short a career with NASA. His life is peaceful – if not quiet idyllic – until a top-secret NASA database is unaccountably downloaded onto his computer's hard drive in a blinding flash of light. With his inside knowledge, Jordie knows that such a thing isn’t possible. So it begs the question of whom or what is the power behind this inexplicable event that is now beginning to be felt around the world …

In the early stages of The Finger of God, we get the feeling this might be a short and speculative excursion not unlike a stand-alone episode of The X-Files. All the elements are there as Jordie recruits old friend and retired conspiracy-theorist Alan Sinclair to help him decipher the code. But what started out as a small mystery soon dovetails into an apocalyptic novel incorporating every device and trope of science fiction whilst invigorating the plot with horror elements reminiscent of the destruction and carnage found in a Roland Emmerich film. The action cranks up as we shift settings on a global scale from Geelong, Australia to the upper echelons of NASA. The darker aspects of the novel get even darker as Williams juggles an alien monstrosity hell bent on total abolition and the blemishes found within the human heart when put under such duress.

Unfortunately, when charting a plot evocative of sci-fi television, it becomes easy see everything through the lens of these shows, and a downside here is probably the clichéd characters and their dialogue and reactions. We have troubled, hardened cops voicing hackneyed thoughts; we have male and female protagonists who are brought together romantically through the fall of civilization. Underlying it all, we get the feeling Williams is using this stage to preach philosophy about human follies, and at times, I found myself getting bogged down in semantics that tapered the enjoyment of the fast moving plot. There are certain stages when you’ll ‘know’ you’re reading a book. A perfect example of this would be:

"That statement from Maurice injected reality back into the surreal atmosphere as awareness of the impossibly dire situation permeated the kitchen."

All that aside, we can tell Williams is a gifted author whose talent is only just coming to the forefront, and The Finger of God is perfect for people who enjoy savvy science fiction with subtle hints of horror.

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