Jubilee Year, by Gerard O’Neill / ** ½

26894846At the core of Jubilee Year lies a pretty solid idea for a thriller. There’s an object that’s nearing the Earth – a massive star system that’s going to basically rain down destruction and meteorites onto the surface of the planet. And even more troubling is the realization that this has happened before – and will continue to happen. And yet, due to the actions of a shadowy cabal, most of the planet has no idea what’s going to happen, or any ability to survive.

The problems, though, should become apparent fairly obvious. First of all, how do you cover up something like this? And what’s the benefit in letting most of the planet die off? It’s here that Jubilee Year falls a bit short. It makes a good effort to explain the former question, but the answer ends up feeling so ludicrously complicated (it involves weather control, chemtrails, and the like) that you can’t help but feel like it’s more effort than the whole thing requires, especially since people figure it out anyway. As for the second question…well, does the fact that they’re a shadowy evil cabal explain it? No? Well, that’s about as much as you’ll get out of it – they think they deserve to survive and others don’t.

None of it quite makes the premise work as well as it needs to, and that’s a shame, because a lot of Jubilee Year is pretty solid. O’Neill takes his time setting up his plot, investing us in the characters and their stories before he starts blowing everything up, and that’s not a small thing; even though a lot of those individual arcs get cluttered and unclear as everything goes up, that’s a bit more understandable, and I’m glad to see someone invest this in characters before the story. There’s also some wonderfully odd and intriguing moments along the way, such as an encounter with a bizarre figure who seems to know far more than he’s telling us and seems to be something, perhaps, less than human. Add all that to some good use of the Australian setting and you have some good elements in the novel.

Nonetheless, none of it is quite enough to hook me into the book. The premise ultimately never quite hangs together, and it’s unclear, even by the end of the book, whether we’re supposed to feel that this is a world-ending event, the prelude to something larger, or some combination of the two. Moreover, the gradual pacing of the first half eventually gives way to a far more rushed pace, and while that fits the action of the story, it ends up feeling rushed in sections, with new characters appearing out of nowhere, becoming very important quickly, and then departing again. Generally, it’s an interesting book, with some good aspects, but it’s also the kind of book that would benefit from some revisions with a critical eye to patch up some of the structural flaws and plot weaknesses.


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