Saturday, September 26, 2009

Robin Parrish's "Offworld"

It's fascinating to read a novel, a science fiction novel like this one, and be able to follow the geography because you yourself have lived it.

It’s 2033, and four U.S. astronauts are returning from the first expedition to Mars. They’ve been gone almost three years. The exploration went well, except for the time when the commander, Chris Burke, was lost and should have died from lack of oxygen. But he remembers little of what happened.

As the team of four approaches Earth, they find they’ve lost contact with Johnson Space Center in Houston. Then the ship’s systems fail, and the ship crashes at the Kennedy Center in Florida. The four survive, but then find the center devoid of people. Accessing a laptop, they begin to check for the rest of the area. And learn that people have disappeared. All people. Worldwide. Ten billion people are gone. And so are the animals and insects. And whatever happened, it was sudden, as if in a single moment. The team can also see that an incredibly bright light emanates from Houston, and it is to Houston they decide to go.

It doesn’t take long for them to learn they are not alone, after all.

Robin Parrish could have chosen any number of possibilities for what happens in his novel Offworld. He chose what is likely the most challenging one, and then framed the story in one wild, action-packed, the tension-never-lets-up narrative that sweeps the reader along the top of a giant wave of suspense.

Offworld could be a movie. No, it should be a movie. The writing is that descriptive and vivid. The reader is there, with the astronaut team, every step of the way. That takes some skill, and Mr. Parrish pulls it off.

The geography of the novel arcs from central Florida to Houston. When I was a baby, my family lived in Florida, but then returned to New Orleans. The four astronauts of Offworld travel from the Orlando/Kennedy Center area to the Florida Panhandle, through Mobile and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Beaumont and then Houston. I have lived, played, vacationed and/or visited every single one of those places. I nearly came out my chair when the author mentions North 11th Street in Beaumont (my first job out of college was in Beaumont, and I lived in an apartment on N. 14th St.) and Beaumont's Parkdale Mall (I edited a lot of stories about Parkdale Mall for the Beaumont Enterprise; I was there when it opened).

And the big bridge on Interstate 10 in Lake Charles, where a major development in the novel occurs? Well, if you've been on that bridge, you know exactly what's happening. And the Medical Center and Rice University in Houston, two more of the action scenes in Offworld? I lived near there as well, and commuted through the Medical Center to reach work in downtown Houston. I went to college in Baton Rouge, lived in New Orleans, and spent a lot of time on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

The geography of Offworld rings true. If Robin Parrish didn't travel that geography in writing his novel, I'll be shocked. It's that close.

Photo of front cover of "Offworld" courtesy of Bethany House Publishers.

1 comment:

Sally said...

I loved Offworld. And you're right; it should be a movie.