Saturday 23 August 2008

'Exit, Pursued by a Bee' by Geoff Nelder

A newly published novel by a British author, 'Exit, Pursued by a Bee' is set in the near future (a manned mission to Mars is ready to go) against a background of a bizarre series of events. Giant silvery spheres nearly 80 metres in diameter slowly emerge from the ground at Glastonbury Tor and several other widely-spaced locations around the world. They prove oblivious to all attempts to communicate with them and immune to efforts to attack them, and gradually float away from the surface. As they do, a series of timeslips begins to occur: people find themselves suddenly back in history, or caught up in catastrophes as structures partially disappear from the present. Sometimes time is locally "rewound", and a series of events is replayed with a different result.

Caught up in the middle of this and trying to make sense of it is Kallandra, a NASA astronaut, variously aided and obstructed by her fiancé Derek, a rocket engineer, and the dangerously tempting fellow astronaut Claude. Further problems come from a sensation-seeking journalist and a US General whose preferred solution to any problem is to nuke it. Chaotic events accumulate and conclude in a long-distance chase using the Mars spaceship to try to undo the damage being done.

This is a generally light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek romp which races along engagingly, although a couple of tragedies slightly darken the mood later on. Not for those who look for portentous dramas, explorations of advanced physics or serious consideration of the problems of society. The emphasis is on escapist entertainment, and at that it succeeds very well.

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