Boundary is a hard science-fiction novel, the first in a series, written by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor. This book has been on of my most-anticipated titles from the genre because it had such an enticing premise to it. I began it in February, but due to catching a few colds and finding a reading slump, I was not able to finish it until last week. However, after finally completing the novel, I feel that the writing style may have contributed to the reason why it took me so long to finish. While Boundary excelled marvellously in certain aspects, it fell short in others, making my interest wane from time to time.
Boundary begins with a couple of young people stumbling upon an unusual rock. When the rock is handed over to scientists, a palaeontologist realises that it is a fossil. Through extensive testing and some scandalous theories, it is found that the fossils discovered do not belong to any creatures that existed on Earth. Instead, they are creatures from Mars; literally dinosaurs from deep space! This kicks off one of the most important expeditions humankind has ever embarked on.
One of the best qualities to this book are all the different sorts of sciences mentioned. We have palaeontology, astronomy, geology, mineralogy, linguistics, astrophysics, and more. Each one of them contributes in one way or another to the overarching plot line. Titbits from this corner and that corner are meticulously and fluidly woven together to create a very genuine and believable futuristic setting where humans go to Mars to learn more about what has been discovered. If you are a fan of hard sciences, then you will positively love it in Boundary! If you are not too familiar with hard sciences, I believe that you will find pleasure in some of it, but not all of it.
The authors do a great job of making a few of the more complex fields accessible to readers who may not have much knowledge or understanding of those respective fields, but that sort of approachability is not a trend that lasts for the entire duration of the book. I love palaeontology, astronomy, and astrophysics, but I am not too great with geology or mineralogy. I also do not have much patience for super technical aspects of engineering (i.e.: this needs to be this specific shape for that specific reason type of stuff), which are approached in a way that expects the readers to automatically be familiar with those subjects. When those portions came up, it made it challenging for me to stay one-hundred-percent focused and I found myself feeling bored. I think if there was a decent segue into them with a brief explanation, then I would have had much more fun.
Another good example of imbalances in the book relate to the main topic of the novel. The fossils are discovered and examined within the first hundred pages, but then we switch gears to a character who is working to build devices for space exploration, utterly unrelated to the fossil’s unearthing. A huge chunk of the book is essentially a narrative of him getting all of this together, probably about two hundred fifty to three hundred pages. He faces plenty of real-life obstacles and nothing is convenient, which I loved. Nonetheless, it is slow, consists of many time jumps without context or mention (as a reader, we learn of these time jumps through character dialogue about ninety percent of the time, or the narrator conveniently drops a sentence very briefly mentioning it), and felt unnecessarily prolonged. The authors took their time listing almost every single detail of how things come together. While I love a good building of atmosphere and I appreciate when a writer can create an environment that touches on every sense, I also believe in too-much information, which sucks all the imagination out of the reading experience. I was being told all these things rather than being able to escape into the world and surroundings.
Eventually everything does fit together through various plot points, and tension is finally introduced, helping the book gain much-needed speed. But we run into the same problems sporadically towards the last third of the novel, where things are supposed to kick-in and really grab the reader but fall horridly short and tedious. It got to the point where the big revelations left me feeling rather apathetic because their execution was so mundane and lacklustre.
Regardless of the dull nature of the writing style, there are a few more qualities that are excellent. Similarly, to the wonderful variety of scientific subjects, there is a lot of diversity in the cast. We have a black male in a prominent leadership position, an intelligent, headstrong woman in another leadership position, scientists who are Indian, Japanese, and of a couple other non-white races. There is romance, but its subtle and lingers in the background as a natural evolution of relationships between adults who spend a lot of time together. While there is a lot of casual flirting, there are no graphic sex scenes. I felt this helped keep the focus on the story. I always appreciate it when a book does not add something just for the hell of it. I also found the political intrigue to be quite fascinating.
When I think of ground-breaking discoveries, I rarely contemplate how this affects countries who are vying for the upper-hand politically speaking. There are so many elements that go into why something jaw-dropping should or should not be revealed to the public or shared with foreign powers that the average person never thinks about. The book sheds light on those parts of foreign affairs, especially where space travel and technology are concerned, in a way that is easy to understand, while being methodical and complex. It was superbly written and portrayed and was one of the few parts of the book that had me completely hooked.
Overall, Boundary is not a bad book by any means. It is most obviously the first instalment in a series, which is what creates a lot of its shortcomings. The book spends more time than necessary to really set up the foundation for events that I suspect will unfold as the series progresses forward. This is not a bad thing at all, but it leaves the novel feeling under-polished and rather incomplete in many ways. The authors are fantastic writers of hard science and political intrigue but need more practise with the art of building tension and suspense and holding back on the overflow of descriptives. I do recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading hard science-fiction, more so if you have an affinity for diverse branches of science, plus people who find political conspiracies to be interesting. However, if you are someone who likes to use your imagination, or if you do not particularly care for slower narratives, go into it with a grain of salt, or avoid it entirely. I will say that I am invested enough in the world and storyline that has been created and I plan on reading more of the Boundary series in the future, but it is definitely not a series I can read back-to-back.
3 fossils outta 5!