This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Next one on our list for this week was Primordial Threat, by by M. A. Rothman.
Only after reading this book, I found that Rothman has some impressive connections and endorsements from well-known traditional authors, and that this book is a hundreds-of-reviews-bearing bestseller in its own right. Rothman is, but for a foolish trip-up of fate and a critical blunder of the traditional publishing machine, a traditional bestselling author slumming it with the lowly self-pubs.
But none of that really matters. He’s done everything right in this book, and he deserves the acclaim he’s gotten. Before discovering any of these things about him I had already read, and thoroughly enjoyed, his story. And so all I can do is sing its praises. I just don’t carry a tune particularly well so bear with me.
This exciting and engaging tale of global impending Armageddon (it really did have a Deep Impact on me and I’d read it 2012 times … okay sorry, but what you have to remember about those movies is, they were fucking great and this would be at least as good and Emmerich should absolutely make it after he’s finished with Moonfall) is backed up with some storybook but otherwise intriguingly solid science, or at least science-fiction, which is why we’re here after all. We are introduced to our main characters and they’re all highly distinctive and readable in their own ways.
The main protagonists of the story are a primordial black hole that’s about to destroy the solar system, a bunch of apocalyptic doomers who want it to happen (of course), and Greg. Fucking Greg, I swear to God. Look, not to spoil it but someone should have shot Greg in the face the first time he made a cunt of himself. Shot him right in the face, and replaced him with a packet of macaroni wearing a hat. Then the worst character would have been the black hole.
This book definitely feels like a product of its time. The breakdown of (admittedly stupid and ignorant) people’s trust in science, and the pandemic of the early 2020s has convinced me that this story, ultimately, would not have worked. It’s fiction, in its purest and most optimistic form (in fact, it sounds very like the book written by John Cusack’s character in 2012, which adds a layer of fun to it). Nobody would believe the scientists – or enough people wouldn’t – and the politicians would not stop being self-serving, and the operation would tank, and we would all die. And that’s good. We deserve to. Rothman had better get busy writing more books because this wasn’t enough to convince me of the general worthwhile-ness of humanity.
We are treated to some very satisfying scenes as the end-of-the-world scenario plays out. We see actual leadership and selflessness, to a degree that bordered on the political porn of Designated Survivor. None of this would actually happen but it’s so fun to pretend it would. This book is about Earth being threatened by a rogue black hole and the most unbelievable thing about it is the number of people who aren’t giant pieces of shit. That’s where we’re at right now, folks.
I did have to ask, why wasn’t the same tech being used (quite aside from the fact that it was all hidden and under wraps) to send out evacuation colonies or just exploration teams in every damn direction? Seems like, yes, we had a quite literal “all the eggs in one basket (and also the entire farm and every chicken capable of laying eggs that has ever and will ever exist)” situation going on, and only a very fixed amount of specific resources (ie. graphene), but a lot of parallel projects could have happened. That would probably have added unnecessary threads to the plot, but maybe we could have done it instead of the cop thread? I mean, the cop thread was fine but it didn’t super tie into the rest of the story. Meh. Oh well.
The series of events surrounding “Frank”, and their emergency fallback power supply, was all a little bit out-there but damn it, I liked it. It allowed a bit of high-stakes tension with the Brotherhood and still gave us the Great Big Sci-Fi we love to see. Yes, this was all really enjoyable and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. While it could be tweaked, it was really fine. I look forward to the movie.
Some babies are born, which (I’m no scientist but) to me suggests that there might have been some people having The Sex. But seriously, there’s not really time for sex in this story. The world’s about to end, people! Fuck later. Jesus Christ. I’ll give this book a Bambi out of a possible Thumper on the ol’ sex-o-meter.
A whole bunch of deaths, some angry mob action, a guy loses a couple of fingers and the fabric of space-time gets torn a new arsehole, but ultimately this isn’t a gory one. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five for Primordial Threat.
There’s classic WTF of a big golden-age sci-fi quality in this book. No wonder Niven and Benford and Anderson like this, it’s the sort of stuff they write – and it’s at least as good, in my opinion. Maybe even better. Megaengineering, and huge cosmic stakes. These aren’t so much true WTFs, but it makes for a fantastical and escapist read that was really enjoyable. There’s inspiring WTFery of the “could space really do this to us?” variety (the answer is yes, yes it could, without even looking up from its metaphorical sudoku), and exciting WTFery of the “could human science really achieve this?” variety (the answer is … ehh … no, not really, but it’s fucking neat), and horrifying WTFery of the “are people really like this?” variety (I think we all know the answer to this one). I’ll give it a Ringworld and a Rama out of a possible Bowl of Heaven.
My Final Verdict
An interesting and imaginative story with a very cathartic ending for those readers (I would like to think it’s most of us, at this point) who are frustrated with evangelical doomsday cultists and their apparent desire to just fucking kill everyone. My initial instinct was to give Primordial Threat four and a half stars. I want to elevate that to five purely because of the simple and beautiful relationship between Dave and Bella. After finding out more about the story’s background and advantages, my next instinct was to deduct again, but that’s completely unfair of me. My unbiased and open-eyed take on this story was five stars, and five stars is what it gets. Excellent job and a really good read.