05.24.11

Review of Christian Cantrell’s “Containment”

Posted in Reviews at 9:20 AM by Maurice Alvarez

Containment is not for all sci-fi fans.  If you enjoy paragraphs of technical details on the workings of possible future technology and chapters devoted to ancillary background narrative, then this book is for you.  I might have been persuaded to look past all that, after all it was very successfully handled by Stephen R. Donaldson in his Gap series.  But all this exposition often comes at the expense of story flow.  Even at the end, when the protagonist’s great plan is about to be sprung, the story breaks into a multi-paragraph technical explanation of how the colony’s transportation system works, for no reason.  It’s great that the author had all this in mind as he wrote it; an author should have an in-depth familiarity with his setting.  But a reader does not require all this detail unless it applies to the plot and if it is inserted seamlessly.

To make matters worse, the over-exposition interspersed with very confusing shifts back and forth in time throughout the first half of the book.  I often found it difficult to tell if I was reading about Arik in the present or if it was his past until some detail 2-3 pages into the chapter clarified the setting.  A more chronological approach in flashback would have worked well and not changed the effect of the story at all.

It isn’t until 3/4 of the way through the book that the past catches up with the present and the plot twist is revealed.  And it’s a great plot twist, if somewhat implausible.  While it might be difficult to believe that these young scientists are unaware of the true nature of their environment, one can imagine a situation in which external input is so carefully controlled that they remain sheltered from the truth until they get into the truly hardcore experiments.  So this implausibility can be overlooked.

More difficult to overlook is the lack of connection with the characters.  Despite an account of their youth through several flashback chapters, there was little to make me like/dislike Cam, Zaire, Cadie or any of the Gen 5 kids.  Only Arik’s struggle to recover from brain surgery elicited any sympathy from me.  Everyone including Arik is written in such a way as to seem almost emotionally destitute; even Arik’s reactions to life-threatening situations are handled with cold logic.  V1 might just as well have been a colony of Vulcans straight out of Star Trek.

The ending is abrupt, which I had expected and did not mind at all.

Containment is a decent story wrapped up in a package that doesn’t allow it to reach its potential.