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Fragment
Edwin Arlington Robinson

Faint white pillars that seem to fade
As you look from here are the first one sees
Of his house where it hides and dies in a shade
Of beeches and oaks and hickory trees.
Now many a man, given woods like these,
And a house like that, and the Briony gold,
Would have said, "There are still some gods to please,
And houses are built without hands, we're told."

There are the pillars, and all gone gray.
Briony's hair went white. You may see
Where the garden was if you come this way.
That sun-dial scared him, he said to me;
"Sooner or later they strike," said he,
And he never got that from the books he read.
Others are flourishing, worse than he,
But he knew too much for the life he led.

And who knows all knows everything
That a patient ghost at last retrieves;
There's more to be known of his harvesting
When Time the thresher unbinds the sheaves;
And there's more to be heard than a wind that grieves
For Briony now in this ageless oak,
Driving the first of its withered leaves
Over the stones where the fountain broke.

Fragment is a 2006 sci-fi action thriller novel by Warren Fahy. It's about Hender's Island, a tiny speck of land in the midst of the Pacific and only recently discovered by a Vessel named The Trident which is filming a reality TV nature documentary show called Sea Life. The ship catches a distress beacon coming from the island and the captain detours to investigate and perhaps rescue whoever is ship-wrecked. A full compliment of scientist and film crew members disembarks onto the island which has one beach and tall cliffs surrounding the interior. The distress beacon is coming from a years old derelict. Just when it looks like the whole expedition is going to be a bust monsters pour out of the interior of the island and kill more than half of the expeditionary force. Oh, and this all happened on live television.

Turn's out Hender's Island has been on its own for a very long time. Since the Cambrian Explosion it's been separated from any other land mass and the organisms there have developed very differently. There are radially symmetric disk ants that roll as their primary locomotion. There are Hender's Wasps with four wings, four mantis arms, four mouths, and no front or back to speak of. And who could forget the Spiger, with eight legs, tiger stripes, and the size of an SUV. Hender's rats, Shripanzee, trees with teeth, giant mantis shrimp in the lakes, the list goes on for a while. What's better is that not only are these creatures really weird arthropod-mammal mash ups but they are all living in a super lethal, violent, ridiculously fast paced war of all on all. There is no food chain here; everything is hunting everything all of the time. Nature red in tooth and claw at x100 speed. The few organisms they are able to dissect have stored sperm that mean's they only have to mate once in their lives and can just become pregnant whenever it's convenient. Smaller organisms will attack bigger wounded organisms en mass when the opportunity arises. Everything has camouflage, poison, speed to put a striking snake to shame, or all three. The whole ecosystem runs on some kind of super lichen that grows about a foot an hour and can metabolize paint. But why haven't these creatures escaped into the oceans and eaten everything? They all have zero capacity to regulate their saline levels and salt water kills them. Convenient.

Back on the Trident a few days later, the massacre of a couple of people on live TV by monsters has gotten the attention of the ENTIRE WORLD and the U.S. navy has blockaded the island much to the chagrin of the international community. NASA is rolling out their exoplanetary base prototypes as a forward position and the survivors of first contact are being teamed up with top level biologists. They go on a few ill fated adventures discovering that Hinder's Island isn't as bad as it seems, it's worse, and eventually figure our the salt water trick. Some of the smart people at the department of defense figure out that if any of these species get back to the mainland it's the end of the ecosystem as we know it and make the very wise decision that it needs to be nuked. The science team kind of nods along because half of them have been eaten until they discover that one of their missing number is actually alive. Turns out that the death island has fully intelligent (and friendly) shrimp/monkey people living here for however many thousand (million?) years and they saved Andy and his dog. They decide that the Hendropods just have to be saved and launch a daring escape that goes off with several hitches but ultimately works out. Everyone who matters is saved. The End.

This book is Jurassic Park on crack. It's people who should know better getting eaten by monsters with implausible appetites. I have absolutely no idea how a small island's ecosystem turns into a hyper-Darwinian maelstrom where the laws of thermodynamics are more like suggestions. At one point the biologist acknowledges that island ecologies are delicate. The reason for that is that evolution is a numbers game. The more of an organism there is the more chances there are for beneficial mutations to show up. Tiny islands don't let you have large population to play that game in. IT MAKES NO SENSE! Technically improbable core premise aside, the pacing was good, there was always something happening. The characters were forgettable stock archetypes in most cases but decently written all the same. The third person limited point of view jumps around like a kangaroo on a Pogo stick to fit everything in but in so far as there's a protagonist it is Nell Duckworth who is at the center of most major plot movements. She has around a third of the screen time and is my favorite type of female protagonist: the fact that she's a woman has barely any bearing on the plot. Speaking of the plot, there are a lot of plot threads weaving around and through each other that I didn't mention in the summary. Tons of intrigue, personality conflicts, and little happenings flesh out the world. And nerding out about biology. I'd be really surprised if Warhen Fey doesn't have significant secondary education in the life sciences.

In conclusion: this is a book about morphologically crazy monsters and why we nuked them. This book would make a sick movie which I would gladly watch. If you like Michael Crichton books you'll probably like this. If you like speculative biology and aren't too sensitive about plausibility you'll probably like this. If you just want a thriller where half the cast is eaten by bug/mammals you'll probably like this. It has a lot of specific appeals. I'd give this book four out of five stars as it does everything well but nothing great.

IRON NODER THE THIRTEENTH

Frag"ment (?), n. [L. fragmentum, fr. frangere to break: cf. F. fragment. See Break, v. t.]

A part broken off; a small, detached portion; an imperfect part; as, a fragment of an ancient writing.

Gather up the fragments that remain. John vi. 12.

 

© Webster 1913.

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