Roger Zelazny and Thomas Thomas
Flare is a disaster story told in vignette. According to the story, solar flares as a phenomenon basically stopped happening at the end of last century. Humanity spread through the solar system and, because there hadn’t been any to worry about, enacted cost-cutting measures on flare protection. By the time of the book, solar flares were seen even by scientists as something akin to mammoths or the dodo – fun to study if one is into ancient history, but not really relevant or grant worthy. (Insert sinister music here.) The fools will soon learn the error of their short-sighted ways!
The novel is a chronicle of one giant solar flare, the insane damage it causes, the scientists who bravely try to warn others and fend off chaos. There is also an epic journey of Homeric proportions. The authors elected, however, to tell this story not as a traditional, character-driven narrative, but more as a collection of newspaper articles and brief glimpses into people’s lives. As such, the grand scheme of things is more or less clear, but the emotional impact is negligible. People show up, get cut off mid-story, sometimes die, sometimes succeed; but there is no continuity to it all. Someone may die, but chances are we have only seen him or her for a page or two and shrug the death off as collateral damage. The most sympathetic character isn’t even human – it’s a plasmoid that resides in the sun’s corona. The aforementioned Homeric journey is that of the plasmoid. It gets caught in the flare, tossed up thousands of miles from home, and has adventures that would make Odysseus proud. Well, they would if Odysseus could get close enough to the sun to notice a very small blob of plasma.
So as a news report, a history, or even a cautionary tale, I suppose that Flare succeeds. As a novel, I have mixed feelings. Presumably the authors chose that style for a reason, but while I consider myself warned not to underestimate The Power of the Sun, I can’t actually remember a single character’s name or the details of his or her fate. While this isn’t trash by any reckoning, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it over a large number of more interesting books I’ve read this year.
Rating: A mid-table clash in the French second league. Worth watching if it’s your favorite team or you are an insane completist. Otherwise, there’s something better on, right?