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Friday, June 24, 2011

“Heaven’s Shadow” by David S. Goyer & Michael Cassutt (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Heaven’s ShadowHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

ABOUT DAVID S. GOYER: David S. Goyer is a screenwriter, film director and comic book writer. His filmography includes Dark City, Blade, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He is currently working on The Dark Knight Rises and the upcoming Superman film, Man of Steel. Heaven’s Shadow is his first novel.

ABOUT MICHAEL CASSUTT: Michael Cassutt is a television producer, screenwriter and author. His TV work includes The Outer Limits, Eerie, Indiana, Beverly Hills 90210, and The Twilight Zone. His novels includes The Star Country, Dragon Season, Missing Man, Red Moon and the non-fiction book, Who’s Who in Space.

PLOT SYNOPSIS: It was sighted three years ago in the southern sky. An object over one hundred kilometers across, originating from the Octans constellation, on a trajectory for our sun. As the Near-Earth Object—dubbed “Keanu”—approaches, two manned vehicles race through almost half a million kilometers of space to be the first to reach its surface: NASA’s Destiny, originally designed for flights to the Moon and Mars, and the untested lunar ship Brahma, representing the Russian-Indian-Brazilian Coalition.

But when the competing missions both arrive on the contested entity, they find that Keanu is much more than a simple rock hurtling through space. It has been sent toward Earth for a reason...

FORMAT/INFO: Heaven’s Shadow is 416 pages long divided over five titled Parts, with each Part further divided by unnumbered & untitled chapters that feature brief quotes or excerpts from message boards, press releases, interviews, etc. Also includes a Dramatis Personae and sketches of the Brahma and Destiny-Venture shuttles. Narration is in the third person via numerous characters including Destiny-7 commander Zack Stewart, his teenage daughter Rachel, Zack’s girlfriend and fellow astronaut Tea Nowinski, and Harley Drake. Heaven’s Shadow ends at a point that is satisfactory, but the book is the first volume in a trilogy which will be followed by Heaven’s War (July 2012) and Heaven’s Fall.

July 5, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Heaven’s Shadow via Ace Books. The UK version (see below) will be published on July 15, 2011 via Tor UK. US cover art is provided by James Paick. NOTE: Warner Bros. has acquired the rights to the trilogy with the film adaptation of Heaven’s Shadow to be written and directed David S. Goyer.

ANALYSIS: It’s safe to say that David S. Goyer has had a successful career as a screenwriter. The Dark Knight alone is one of the highest grossing films of all time—and a personal favorite. Unfortunately, Goyer has not fared nearly as well in television, comic books and as a movie director.  So when I heard about Heaven’s ShadowDavid S. Goyer’s debut novel—I was instantly intrigued, but also a little wary. Thankfully, Heaven’s Shadow is worth the price of admission, delivering a blockbuster novel full of pulse-pounding thrills and epic fun. Throw in popcorn, soda and 3D glasses, and it’s almost like being at the movies.

Of course, Heaven’s Shadow is not a movie—at least not yet—it’s a book, and that’s where co-writer Michael Cassutt comes in. Besides having experience with television and screenwriting, Michael Cassutt has also written a number of novels, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as numerous short stories. That experience shows throughout Heaven’s Shadow in the form of crisp pacing, characters with engaging personalities and distinctive traits, accessible prose, and skillfully handled plotting highlighted by nearly non-stop tension and excitement. At the same time, characterization is not very in-depth—reminding me of characters you might find in a James Rollins or Michael Crichton novel—which is made worse by the large number of characters in the book, while the storytelling can be formulaic at times thanks to obvious foreshadowing—Yvonne’s personal preference kit (PPK)—and a Hollywood-like ending. That said, for a novel that is more commercial fiction than it is science fiction, Heaven’s Shadow is very well-written, especially when the book could have been nothing more than a glorified movie script.

Because of his writing experience, Michael Cassutt also possesses extensive knowledge regarding NASA and spaceflight, which is evident in the parts of Heaven’s Shadow that features NASA, astronauts, and other space-related applications. Science fiction elements meanwhile—including alien races (Architects, Sentries) and alien technology (Markers, the Factory, an environment that adapts to different species, etc.)—may be shallowly developed and familiar, especially for SF veterans, but it’s always exciting to see what new discoveries the crews of Destiny and Brahma uncover on Keanu. The highlight is a technology so far advanced that it seems like magic. This technology—which I won’t discuss in detail to prevent spoilers—is thought-provoking and provocative, and is the catalyst behind the best surprises and drama in the entire book. On the flipside, the purpose of the spacecraft is not revealed until the novel is almost over, but the sequels will no doubt cover this revelation—and the Reivers—in greater detail.

Overall, Heaven’s Shadow may favor style over substance, and the incomplete story may require commitment to a trilogy in order to reach the final payoff, but considering how much fun the book is to read, it’s hard to complain. In short, Heaven's Shadow is one of the most entertaining novels I've read this year, offering more bang for your buck than most big-budget movies that will be released this summer...

5 comments:

LuisB said...

Nice review Robert but I have to disagree with David Goyer not faring well in comics, while it was never a sales blockbuster his run with Geoff Johns on JSA is a classic one and frequently mentioned with reviving those characters from limbo. Either way this review did its job of piquing my curiosity and to check Goyer's stuff as a novelist.

Robert said...

Thanks Luis! My comment towards television and comics was geared more towards sales, especially compared to the success he has enjoyed as a screenwriter, but I understand where you're coming from. Regardless, I'm glad the review caught your interest, because I think Heaven's Shadow is definitely worth checking out...

Niall Alexander said...

Well, that's a relief!

I've been sitting on my review copy for months now, thinking: Wouldn't it just suck if this turned out to be utter tripe?

I fear the Unborn has rather turned my love for David Goyer inside out and upside down, so it's good to hear there's some fun to be had with Heaven's Shadow. As ever, thanks for the great review, Robert.

Robert said...

I hear you Niall. I definitely had my concerns about Heaven's Shadow, but I'm glad I gave it a chance. Hopefully you have fun with it!

And yes, The Unborn is awful. The Invisible wasn't much better, and Blade III killed the series...

rfdarsie said...

I'm 3/4 of the way through this book right now (all of that read in one day - that's how I spent July 4!) and it's one of the best books of this type that I've read in a long while. I'm of an age now where I have little patience for books that don't grab me fairly quickly. This one did.

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