The Ice Limit was one of my earliest and fondest-remembered books from Douglas Preston an Lincoln Child, so when I learned of the sequel, Beyond The Ice Limit, I was on this sucker like white on rice. As it happens, Beyond The Ice Limit also acts as Book #4 in their Gideon Crew series. I’ve not read any of the previous Crew books, but still felt at home in this novel.
I will admit, though, that it took me a little bit of time to warm up to Beyond The Ice Limit. The first twenty percent or so of the book is devoted to getting the plot up and running, acclimating the crew to life on board the research vessel Batavia, and shoehorning in a romance between Gideon and Alex, one of the ship’s rare female members. Romance, it should be noted, is not the biggest strength of Lincoln and Child, but you know it’s love at first sight for Gideon and Alex because of the way her breasts press against the ship’s railing when she leans out the deck to enjoy a drink and watch icebergs, and the way Gideon’s eyes linger on her ass and breasts in virtually every time they cross paths. Gideon is apparently also a magician – a throwaway trait that Lincoln and Child exploit for exactly one whole scene before dropping it like a concrete block into the ocean – and, lo and behold!, so is Alex! So see – romance!
But no faster can you start humming the theme from The Love Boat, and certainly no faster than Alex can swear she won’t be involved in a shipboard romance only to drop trou with Gideon a few pages later, and just in time to prevent Lincoln and Child from having to figure out some method of pesky character development, it’s time to contend with the alien menace they’ve all been recruited for and the authors can finally get down to telling the kind of story they are actually good at and quite well known for. And the nature of the alien threat is?! … a tree.
It turns out that the meteorite at the center of The Ice Limit was less a meteor and more of a seed, and it has taken root in the Antarctic seabed. And this sucker is pretty massive, which means certain doom for a particular planet we’re all fairly attached to.
Snark aside, I actually found myself enjoying this book quite a bit. Granted, I spent roughly the first quarter of it wishing I were instead reading Warren Ellis’s comic book series TREES, but it’s around that post-quarter-mark that Lincoln and Child stop mucking about and get their act together, finally figuring out the story they want to tell, and that many readers have demanded since finishing The Ice Limit years ago.
This is a story that hits a large number of my particular sweet spots – we’ve got a confined and claustrophobic setting (the RV Batavia) in the midst of a desolate area (Antarctic waters), an alien menace, smart people getting outsmarted by more primal forces and then recovering their wits enough to strike back, and a continual escalation of threats with some wonderfully gory and unsettling “oh crap!” moments. There’s plenty of scientific posturing going on and plausible-enough sounding threats that serve to take the alien threat to the next level. I dug it all this stuff quite a lot.
But still, Beyond The Ice Limit has a few particular problems. Most of those problems are front-weighted, so if you can wade through the first quarter of the book you’re pretty golden. I’m not terribly thrilled at the author’s choice of fridging their most prominent female character in order to compel their male lead into action – quite frankly, this is a tiresome, worn-out staple that we (particularly we male authors) should be moving away from. The big finale, the one the authors spent several hundred pages leading up to, is sadly anticlimactic, to the point that Lincoln and Child spend much of their epilogue telling us about it when they really should have been showing us a chapter or two previously.
Could this book have been better? Yeah, I think so. Does it make me want to check out all those Gideon Crew books I missed? No, not really. I was not so captivated by this character that I’m dying to know what else he’s been up to, or what comes next for him, but I’m sure I’ll get to them one of these days when I’ve nothing else more immediately interesting in my TBR pile and I’ve gotten caught up on all those Pendergast books I’ve missed along the way. Thankfully they’re not required reading, and although this title ties into that character’s on-going series, this book is pretty much a stand-alone title. Did I at least have fun? Oh yeah. Quite a lot. A surprising amount in fact!
And it’s because I had so much fun that I’m willing to overlook some of the weaknesses I encountered here. I can overlook a lot when I’m enjoying the ride, and although I harped on this book for having a pretty mundane and craptasticly rocky start, there’s roughly 75% of a really good sci-fi horror book right here. Plus, I’m a sucker for high-seas horror, particularly when that horror is set in the more extreme regions of Earth. I got to read about a crazy alien invasion in the Antarctic with some awesome gory scenes that, in turn, reminded me a little bit of The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That’s pretty cool.
[Note: I received a copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]