Review: Fragment by Craig Russell

This is the first, and so far only, book that I’ve been given to review. It is both the best and the worst book I could have been given to review.

It is the best, or the best type, of book for me to review because I genuinely enjoyed reading it. It’s an engaging story, with realistic characters, and a theme I thoroughly agree with. I’d go to 4.5 stars, but none of the rating systems I use allow me to use half stars. And I give very few 5 stars; 4 stars is for a book I enjoy, would reread, and would recommend.

It is the worst, or the worst type, of book for me to review because I have no idea how to describe it. To say that it heralds environmental disaster, brought about by climate change, no matter how that climate change came about, is to shortchange it. But how else to do so.

I would say that this book has three major themes. The first is the obvious one, that comes from reading the back cover. It is, as I said above, a book about environmental disaster, about what might happen if several Antarctic glaciers avalanched and pushed off a piece of the ice shelf that was much larger and more massive than any group of icebergs in recorded history. Russell succeeds at this story well. I don’t have the scientific background to discuss the scientific accuracy of what happens in the book, but from what I do know, it seems possible, even likely. I also find myself paying close attention whenever the news talks about a major ice breakoff from either of the poles. My tag for these news stories is “Fragment”.

The second theme is the human side of the story. If something like this were to happen, how would we react? Unfortunately, I believe that Russell hits the nail on the head again. Few people believe that anything will happen in the magnitude that it will and does, and politicians use the bits and pieces that they allow the public to hear about against their political rivals. The characters’ motives range from idealistic to self-serving and hit everywhere in between, much like our own. The scientists who have the most thorough, clear-eyed understanding of the dangers have the least power to affect anything; the people in power mostly aren’t listening. The news media follow the story because it will advance their careers and their egos. It isn’t that no one tries to do the right thing, or even that they don’t sacrifice their own personal good for their society. Just like in real life, doing the right thing isn’t only costly; it can be difficult to do.

The characters are sharply drawn, but there are a lot of them, and this is a comparatively short book at 214 pages. I’d say there are too many characters for the length of the book, but it’s hard to know who to remove without hurting the story. This is a plot-driven book, rather than a character-driven book, but the characters aren’t cardboard. We just don’t get time to get to know them very well.

Which brings us to the third theme and, if you hate spoilers, skip this paragraph. This theme isn’t hinted at in the advertising. The final theme has to do with the other creatures with which we share our world, and what they think about what’s happening. The one character that stands out, that we really do get to know, is the one that is the most alien to us: the blue whale Ring. He and his pod are there when the Fragment breaks off; he stays to warn other ocean life about the disaster that is coming their way. It is by discovering how to talk with him (in perhaps the weakest scientific point in the novel) that the novel truly comes alive. In the end, the book is about how we interact with the world around us: whether it is intelligent or not.

I’ve enjoyed both reading and rereading this book. The plot carried me on and I turned the pages to see what happens next. Although I wouldn’t call it a literary masterpiece, it is a book with a lot to say about humanity and how we treat the world around us. Go, read it, and have a good long think after.

Russell, Craig.  Fragment.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Thistlepress, Ltd., 2016 (October 1).  214 pages.  4 stars.

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