There are two distinct themes at work in Libby McGugan’s philosophical science thriller ‘The Eidolon’. One is the very interesting relationship between our lives, physics, reality and our spiritual well-being. The other is the influence, whether intentional or not, of seventies SF TV shows. It makes for a thought-provoking and entertaining novel.
Robert Strong is a research scientist working on an underground dark matter discovery project that is suddenly shut down in an abrupt manner by sinister government types. As Strong loses his job and his research, he also sees his relationship fall apart with his partner Cora. Strong takes a mountain climbing holiday in Tibet only to wind-up nearly dying as a snowstorm hits. He is rescued by Tibetan monks who begin to question the philosophical nature of his research. All this secret underground research and Buddhism places us squarely in Pertwee era ‘Doctor Who’.
As Strong comes to terms with his near-death experience, he is offered a job with a mysterious organisation known as the Observation Research Bureau (ORB), whose role it is to seek out dangerous or immoral scientific research and ‘nudge’ it in the right direction before it can endanger mankind. The reader is moved into the territory of ‘Doomwatch’. ORB’s task for Strong is pretty unique and involves perhaps the greatest scientific experiment of the twenty-first century: CERN and the Large Hadron Collider.
However, all is not as it seems and as the purpose of Strong’s mission becomes blurred as other factions emerge. The final third of the book takes on a more fantastical edge and becomes ‘The Tomorrow People’. Like Alice, Luke Skywalker and Neo before him, Strong’s exposure to and acceptance of a wider universe is an entertaining and dangerous one. With CERN providing an impressive and scientifically engaging background, ‘The Eidolon’ is a thriller that is slow to start, but does build into an exciting story with the last few chapters being real edge-of-your-seat stuff.
Strong is written well, you have to stick with the first few chapters to get past his bitterness and regret, but as the novel progresses you begin to identify with him, his needs and fears. Other characters perhaps fair less well. Victor Amos, ORB’s boss is straight out of any of the above TV shows, while Strong’s partner, Cora, isn’t perhaps given the room to develop as she might have done.
True, the hard science in the novel may not appeal to fantasy fans and the slow slide into the fantastic might not impress all thriller readers but, for me, the mixture of the two was successful and fun. The book is not long and is perhaps over too quickly. This, though, I think is a testament to McGugan’s ability to ramp-up the tension and to get you to turn pages.
One more television comparison is ‘Edge Of Darkness’, with its mixture of conspiracy, science and the spiritual. While ‘The Eidolon’ is not as complex as that drama (few things are), it is neatly evocative of some of the best genre TV of the past and another reason to pick up this novel. It is an up-to-the-minute science thriller with a nostalgic flavour that may see you reaching for your DVD collection once you finish the book.
(pub: Solaris/Rebellion Publishing/HarperCollins. 250 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78108-158-7)
check out website: www.solarisbooks.com