Alex Lomax is a private investigator in New Klondike, a frontier town on Mars. The place is a bit of a dump, existing only due to the rush on ancient Martian fossils, and Lomax is its stereotypical gumshoe. One day, a beautiful woman walks into his office. She is a “transfer”, a human who has transferred her consciousness into a cyborg body.
The story and setting are a deliberate homage to classic noir detective films and novels. The world-building is solid, and it is a enjoyable and almost wistful reading about New Klondike’s dome and the business of “transfers”. Mr. Sawyer takes the idea of the noir detective to the limits of its stereotype, skirting deadpan satire. Naturally the protagonist is broke and has an overdue tab at a seedy bar that he frequents. Naturally the local police department is corrupt and lazy. The first half of the book is good fun. Unfortunately the second half degenerates into a confusing mess of myriad double-crosses and plot twists, taking the novel from a pleasant pastime to an often irritating morass.
An alien lands outside the Royal Ontario Museum in Ontario and asks to see a paleontologist. This is the first alien contact. The alien says that on his world, and on the world of another alien race, the fossil record shows that five mass extinctions have occurred at the same time as they did on earth. The alien races see this as evidence that God exists, and is tampering with the development of intelligent beings. The human paleontologist, Tom Jericho, is skeptical at first, but the evidence is compelling.
I was prepared to hate this book because the premise seemed stupid at first, but Sawyer deftly weaves together known elements of paleontology, genetics, cosmology and other disciplines. There are a couple of small factual errors, such as the fact that Hubble could not immediately be trained on a supernova. And even if it was the optics would be burned out. But I’ll attribute those to dramatic license.
The message of the novel, if you will, is that if there is a supreme being, then he/she/it is not mystical, but encompassed by the scope of science. The interaction between the dying Jericho, as he struggles with his incumbent mortality, and the alien Hollus, is very well written. Sawyer shows their friendship during the events of the novel in a very poignant way. The climax of the novel is unexpected and massive, as the scope of the novel changes dramatically.