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Fragment    by Warren Fahy order for
by Warren Fahy
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Delacorte, 2009 (2009)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Though my first thought while perusing the book jacket of Warren Fahy's Fragment was Jurassic Park - and the opening reinforces that perception - this is a very different story, one that explores what might have happened if a fragment of a supercontinent had split off and evolved in total isolation for over half a billion years, to create a self-contained, and totally alien, enclave on planet Earth. The Hawaiian quote that launches the story says it all: 'Life is in a precarious position.' And the Prologue that follows reinforces the saying with examples of battles of attrition when new species were introduced to an isolated environment, often an island.

Fragment begins with long-range research vessel Trident chartered by the reality TV show SeaLife to take a cast of 'fresh young scientists and hip young crew' on a 'yearlong around-the-world odyssey, which promised to encounter the most exotic and remote places on Earth.' The ship's botanist, Nell Duckworth has, in her research, found a 1791 ship logbook mention of an island in the region, and signed on to the show in the hope of reaching it - little does she know the horrors ahead on tiny Henders Island, from which the Trident receives a distress signal. Other key players are blindly optimistic marine biologist Andrew Beasley and his dog Copepod, lead cameraman Zero Monroe, and aggressive, drama-seeking producer Cynthea Leeds.

In parallel with SeaLife scientists' catastrophic first encounter with Henders' flora and fauna (reports of which most of the world initially believe to be fake) readers meet brilliant biologist Geoffrey Binswanger, and popular scientist Thatcher Redmond, the self-aggrandizing villain of the piece, whose view is that 'Intelligent life is the ultimate bio-hazard.' NASA leads an investigation of the island, with Nell fruitlessly advising caution as further deadly encounters unfold. The most predatory and invasive species from the rest of the planet are introduced to Henders. They are consistently - and very quickly - slaughtered, as are more humans who get too close. Nell concludes that 'We may need a new planet.'

Of course, Geoffrey Binswanger and Thatcher Redmond end up on Henders, by presidential order as part of a team consulting on the decision of whether or not to sterilize the entire ecosystem before any of its species escape to wipe out everything else on Earth. Nell's advice? 'Nuke the island'. She ends up exploring it instead, with a team including Geoffrey, Thatcher and Zero, in a specially fitted Humvee after they receive an SOS from the island's north ridge. What they find there changes all of their outlooks on Henders, but will they - and their discovery - survive to get off the island, and how will they explain it to the rest of the world?

Though the ending seemed somewhat deus ex machina and even more unlikely than the rest, I enjoyed Warren Fahy's Fragment for the fascinating and informative popular science interspersed throughout, and for its depiction of an alien mini-world, as much as for the exciting - and often gory - storyline. It's a must read for anyone with an interest in biology and the possibilities of evolution.

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