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Review — Green Comet
by Jim Bowering
“As Elgin wakes from a centuries-long sleep, it’s to the memory of danger and loss. Even in the confusion of re-animation, he wonders if this time she’ll be there. But then he remembers the mysterious Visitor and the perilous mission that took Frances from him, and darkness closes in again. Even so, there’s always the hope that this time will be different, that they will have found a way. It was always like this. Hope would always rise again, no matter how often it was struck down.”
I recently had the pleasure of reading Green Comet, the first novel by Jim Bowering. It’s an interesting and well-written book that would have been perfectly at home among the classic science-fiction of the 1950s, when scientists were heroes and love was a simple matter. It’s a strong debut showing for the author but not without its faults.
Note: This is an in-depth review with some minor spoilers.
The novel begins with the main character, Elgin, waking from cryogenic hibernation on the titular Green Comet, an inhabited ball of ice hurtling through space. During the next few chapters, we’re treated to the disorienting experience of his slow return to consciousness, interspersed with the history of his (unnamed) homeworld.
The author doesn’t go into much detail about that planet, and we’re left to imagine that it’s generally Earth-like, while the dominant race would appear to be identical to modern humans. The one startling difference from our own world, and the one that sets up most of the novel’s intrigue, is the large quantity of nearby comets… so many, in fact, that at least two are visible in the sky at any given time.
After one of these comets nearly wipes out the species, they begin to take the dangers of their solar system more seriously, and thus begins their quest to not just tame the comets but eventually colonize them. This is spearheaded by a growing population of synesthetes, people whose senses mingle in peculiar ways, giving them unexpected talents, and it’s these unusual folk who fill out the novel’s cast.
In the present, Elgin is slowly introduced to the realities of modern life inside Green Comet, guided by a kind-hearted and childlike steward named Minder. The life Elgin once knew has changed in subtle ways after nearly two millennia of sleep, but there are some disturbing developments centered around his part in the comet’s history. He and his friends have since become legends (even religious figures, in some cases), and the story behind this forms the core of the narrative.
To that end, the story then jumps back to when Elgin first came to the comet, and proceeds in a mostly linear fashion until the final pages. We learn of his unique talents as an engineer, his adventures playing a futuristic sport called Flashball, and (eventually) his love of the brilliant Frances.
Most of Elgin’s challenges are related to his work as an engineer, while the largest conflicts are interpersonal matters and public debates. This holds true until the book’s denouement, in which a lingering threat finally surfaces after a remarkably long and deliberate build-up. The tension reaches a peak there, and we’re also treated to the story’s most touching and poignant moments… but the climax ultimately amounts to more of a fizzle than a bang.
After that, the narrative shifts into fast-forward as the intervening 1,800 years are accounted for. Loose threads are tied up and all the remaining questions are answered, rolling on to a finale that leaves the reader on a slightly mysterious though hopeful note.
Overall, I quite enjoyed the book. It had a warm spirit and sense of adventure, and the author’s scientific concepts were well thought out and interesting. From the biological modifications the colonists underwent to the kinds of food and furnishings they used, it’s clear Mr. Bowering put a lot of thought into how exactly people might live inside a comet. Some of his other concepts, such as the use of ice for much of their construction, stretched my disbelief somewhat uncomfortably, but never to breaking
The story features a small cast of characters, and though charming, I didn’t always feel that their personalities were deeply sketched out. We spend most of our time with Elgin who is bright, honest, and kind, but the story leans heavily on his innate synesthetic talent, which allows him to simply tell when something is “right.”
The most memorable character by far is Elgin’s best friend, Buzzard, who is portrayed as autistic (though it’s never said outright). Despite his social and physical awkwardness, the character is beloved by everyone in the comet, and (in my opinion) was always a welcome presence in any scene.
On the other end of the spectrum is Frances, Elgin’s love interest and (in many respects) the most important character in the novel. Described as smart, commanding, and compassionate, I nevertheless feel like her character was underdeveloped, and hampered by the fact that we mostly see her through the loving glow of Elgin’s gaze. We know all too well how Elgin feels about her by the end, but the character nevertheless remains something of a cipher.
Also of note in this regard is the game of Flashball, which the characters spend a lot of time practicing and playing throughout the novel. Even though it takes up considerable narrative space, I still don’t have much idea how the game is played, and that’s something I’d definitely like the author to have expanded on more.
The writing is solid and I was very rarely lost or confused about what was happening, even in a low-gravity environment where all the characters can fly and walk on walls. The prose is fluid and pulls you right along, with only a few awkward passages in the early parts that might have benefited from another editing pass.
That being said, the writing is often dispassionate and doesn’t show much style or flair, with the author frequently recounting events in an expository or summary style, free of perspective or emotion. This is especially disconcerting when dramatic moments are glossed over, with the focus instead placed on the quiet interpersonal scenes that follow. This is the case for many of the debates that are the key conflicts through the second act; we know broadly what happens and how the characters react, but these would have been excellent places to really dig in and describe so the reader can experience it for themselves.
At the top of the review, I mentioned that the book would fit in well with classics from the 1950s, and that’s a feeling I found inescapable while reading it. The characters are all moral and forthright; problems are solved through judicious applications of science and teamwork; and the entire story has a certain child-like naiveté and coyness that’s quite
charming. For my own personal taste, I tend to prefer a bit more grit, disgust, and dishonesty, but Green Comet won me over with its relentless hope and happiness.
The book is well copyedited and formatted (I found precisely one typo and one formatting error during my read). The subject matter should be suitable for audiences of any age, though younger readers will struggle with some of the more obscure vocabulary.
Considering the price (as free as air) and permissive license (Creative Commons, attribution, share alike), I can strongly recommend Green Comet, and I wish the author the best of luck with his next outing!
Review — Green Comet
by Jim Bowering
I finished reading “Green Comet” last night.
I found it to be well written and really enjoyed the book and I will give a short synopsis/review for those who might find it helpful. I am definitely not a professional reviewer so bear with me.
“Green Comet” comes in three sections. The first takes place in the present time. This leaves the reader with many unanswered questions. The second section goes back into past where the reader learns what has transpired and gets their questions answered. The third and last section picks up at the end of the first section and brings the reader up to date.
In my opinion the romance between Elgin and Frances is enough to keep the female readers interested and it is not overpowering to the male tech minded reader. On the other side the technical side is well researched and fits the overall plot. All the characters are believable and I found that I have known people in real life that show the same traits and emotions that Jim has included in the people of Green Comet.
Jim ended it perfectly where all the characters can proceed on to other adventures in capturing other small comets and meeting more villainous civilizations. This reader eagerly awaits the next installment.
I highly recommend this book to all who have an interest in science fiction, medicine, even if it is ever so slight. This book is acceptable for the younger readers for it does not contain any offensive or gratuitous sex or offensive language. The violence that is contained is no stronger that what would be found in the reading of a history book.
Long live the people of Green Comet.
Review — Green Comet
by Jim Bowering
Green Comet from the Eyes of a Non-Native English Speaker
I finished reading Green Comet a few days ago. It has a solid plot resting upon an original idea: comet inhabitants. I say it’s solid because the author leads readers throughout the technical difficulties of such a setting and makes it highly credible by means of precise and detailed descriptions. The characters, although fantastic, are also credible and realistic thanks to the advances in science. Now, this is not only a story of science (science-fiction), but also one of the most basic elements in human nature: doing one’s best, risking life, finding (and keeping) real love, and facing extreme danger bravely in spite of our very own fear. The narrative figure does not get in the way: it helps to disclose the characters’ emotions without giving too much information away or forcibly keeping relevant details.
Green Comet makes us imagine the endless possibilities for progress that technology offers and at the same time makes us question our personal attitudes and goals in life thanks to its round, well-developed characters. They are loyal, brave, loving, and hard-working…but also far from perfect: they must fight against their individual fears, doubts, and prejudices to conquer themselves while facing their worst threat as a people.
This novel is deep and quite technical yet enjoyable and able to make you smile and even laugh.
If you want to read a fine piece of writing in which the marvels of precise engineering blend with the subjectivity of human(?) nature, take a look at Green Comet. I am glad I read it.
Here’s an essay by a university student.
Monica Feng Wu
Professor Roberto Saravia
The Unidentified Visitor
Topics about outer space and extraterrestrial life are illustrated in the chapter “The Visitor Stops Blinking” from Jim Bowering’s book Green Comet. The chapter opens up with the appearance of an object similar to a comet, named the Visitor, in the local sky. For years, scientists try to come up with an explanation for its blinking and eventually, after getting to the conclusion that it might be a message from space, they attempt to communicate with it. Unfortunately, they do not get any response. Through time, people have found an interest in reading science fiction stories thus many authors have incorporated the usage of science in their texts. The chapter has some characteristics that intrigue the reader and let him or her be more interested in the story. Some of the characteristics are that it does not use technical vocabulary for non-experts in scientific fields, it portrays scientist’s dedication in their work field, and it enhances the reader’s curiosity.
Commonly, stories containing scientific themes use technical vocabulary to refer to specific situations. Although the story mentions the comet and scientists, it is easy to read and understand; it does not use complicated terms to describe the studies done by the scientists therefore the comprehension of the plot is smooth. Many writers utilize professional vocabulary in stories about outer space; they deeply investigate in order to describe accurately the contexts. However, when words are too complex readers either lose interest in the story or they fail to comprehend its plot. In the case of “The Visitor Stops Blinking”, the fact that a non-expert can read and understand the reading can be perceived clearly as the reader finishes the story without any major inconveniences. For instance, the vocabulary level is adequate for a person with an intermediate English level. Throughout the text, the reader is able to visualize the context and even imagine the comet itself and the scientists investigating it. “They would build their own laser, . . . They would match the frequency of the Visitor’s light . . .Then they would shine it out into space” (Bowering). The author uses simple words to describe the process that the scientists did. In such a way the reader is easily engrossed into the text.
Moreover, as the story centers the finding of an explanation for the visitor, it also accentuates scientist’s dedication. The reader can presume that scientists are typically devoted to their inquiries based on their persistence with the Visitor. In fact, they spend more than two decades looking into it without much results. It is known that scientists, as science itself, base their knowledge on facts and evidence; they tend to be skeptical, which leads to them conducting researches tirelessly. In the chapter, scientists differentiate themselves from non-scientists by saying that they “had to consider an explanation that had been growing among the non-scientific population” (Bowering). They seemed skeptical to take into account the fact that the source of the visitor’s blinking might be artificial. Also, curiosity is a major element in scientists’ habits. It drives them to search for an explanation to every aspect that they find questionable. As seen in Bowering’s chapter, every answer lead to another question and it becomes a long process. Even after years of frustration they persisted with their will to decipher the intent and source of the comet and its blinking. Although it is mentioned that the visitor had no effect over the message that was sent, it is also not specified whether they gave up on the investigation or not.
Additionally, the chapter enhances the curiosity of the readers by giving out a mysterious perception; it talks about an unexplainable visitor and leaves a cliffhanger for the reader at the end of the chapter. First, it mentions that the phenomenon is not like any comet and that even “astronomers, cosmologists and physicists were at a loss” (Bowering). They associate the visitor to a comet since it has similar actions, however, it becomes clear that it is different than the usual comet most people know about. In the chapter, questions such as “How could points separated by light years of space…stay lined up like that?” and “How could something so obviously artificial display so little evidence of intent?” generate curiosity on readers (Bowering). Then, at the end it shows that after trying to communicate with the visitor there is no effect or response. After years of theorizing and experimenting they fail to comprehend its odd actions. The reader ends up wondering what the visitor actually was and what caused or meant its blinking. Also, as mentioned before, there is no mention of the scientists stopping the investigation. It leaves all the speculation and answers to the reader’s imagination.
All in all, the story is alluring since it is easy to follow; it intrigues readers about scientists’ mindset while creating a sense of mystery about the comet. It is common for people to be interested in science fiction since it is entertaining and intriguing; however, because many readers might not be experts in the field they can become discouraged to read a text they do not understand. It is important to mention that nowadays people are losing interest in literature, yet encouraging them to read can enhance their thinking skills. Complicated words do not refer to a text as unreadable, in fact, they can improve the reader’s intellect by expanding his or her vocabulary. Also, as it happens with Bowering’s chapter, readers put into action their imagination by depicting the events and speculating what follows next in the story. Moreover, readers can sympathize with the scientists persistence as they might also desire to understand the visitor. The chapter is not only uncomplicated but also engaging for readers.
Bowering, Jim. “The Visitor Stops Blinking.” Green Comet, Green Comet.org, 2012.
Monica Feng Wu