This is an ideal read for sci-fi nerds. If you believe that the geeks will inherit the earth, and your idea of an A1 weekend is unravelling a few Brannon Braga time paradoxes, then Landfall is entirely up your alley. Author John McWilliams also manages to mix a fair dash of action-adventure in with his near-future ‘what if?’ thought experiment. So if the idea of stroking Schrödinger’s cat for a couple of hundred pages fills you with dread then don’t worry: there’s ultra-fast jets, trips to the ISS, semi-psychotic FBI agents (chosen for their limited empathy cos that makes them more efficient in the field), and über-nerds who not only figure out how to send messages back in time, but also happen to be top-dan martial artists and zen philosophers to boot.
The writing is crisp and accessible, the characters and situations lightly sketched with just enough detail to grab the gist of the plot without being weighed down by stacks of back-story. The bantering dialogue between the FBI guys is crisp and witty; the exposition about time paradoxes – and how they can’t happen – is less digestible, but it’s a necessary part of the plot. The dazzlingly attractive protagonists, all white teeth, square jaws and high IQs, all came straight out of central casting… or hey, maybe not. Maybe all astronauts really are the ultimate human beings, like the beautiful people in white jumpsuits in that Bond movie, Moonraker, where Jaws survives re-entry all on his ownsome…
Sorry. Got sidetracked.
Landfall neatly jumps back n forth between two narratives in time, the later one picking up the threads of what happened 30 years earlier. The mystery itself isn’t too puzzling, but the gradual reveal of the stages leading up to the Big Moment is a lot of fun. There’s scope for the author to play around with some interesting debates provoked by future knowledge: like taking big risks because you’ve been influenced by your awareness of your destiny. It touches on that intriguing zone where science bumps into philosophy, hinting at the debate about predestination and fate which verges on religious conviction…
The writing doesn’t go kneedeep into equations, but you do get the impression this story could’ve started out as a late-night debate between mildly spliffed-up post-grads, with much scribbling on serviettes and earnest scratching of beards.
In any case, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The plot, dialogue and central conceit were more than enough to keep me entertained and to see past the occasional moments of short-cut characterisation which stretch credibility. I definitely enjoyed the intellectual debate, jazzed up in its action-adventure wrapper, and will happily read more by this author. Given a polish by a profesional publisher, this book could easily stand alongside bestsellers in the genre on any bookstore shelf.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Landfall by John McWilliams is available as an ebook or paperback