HUMANITY’S LAST RUN?
Robert Douglas’ debut novel kicks off with a series of natural disasters that, on the surface, appear to be unrelated.
In northern California veteran firefighter Bob Kenton and his crew are struggling against a woodland blaze that refuses to be brought under control. It’s the fifth year in a row that fires have ripped through the forests yet the inferno’s intensity makes the job of putting it out feel a bit more personal than usual: 300 metres above ground and on the other side of the Pacific, Niko Manumoto watches helplessly as a giant tsunami wave engulfs her hometown. She along with a handful of other residents survive the tragedy because they’re on higher ground. Further south in New Zealand’s North Island, Rob and Aroha Blennan are taking in the beauty of Mount Tarakani when powerful tremors rip through the ground, barely a week after plumes of smoke were spotted rising from the mountain’s crater, which had been inactive for two hundred years. Three disasters in three different locations. A coincidence, or a sign perhaps that earth is pushing back against the centuries of destruction humanity has heaped on it? The spontaneity is not unnoticed.
In the outer reaches of the galaxy, a two-person delegation from planet Qrxa is about to embark on an important mission. They must decide if earth’s inhabitants have it in them to be “constructive and peaceful members of the galactic community.” If not, the alternative is to allow “the world and it’s other species to recover from its despoliation and abuse in the hope that evolution will allow another sentient, and less warlike, species to develop.” Humanity is in the last chance saloon and it’s up to a Martian delegation to spell out the risks if conflict, famine, environmental destruction and its related miseries are allowed to continue. Will they get the message across, or is this too big a task for even a well-meaning delegation of extra-terrestrials?
Redemption is a novel of imagination and promise. The storyline is simple, (slightly echoing the 1951 science fiction movie The Day the Earth Stood Still), yet it doesn’t disappoint because of that. If anything, the uncomplicated style of writing where the action shifts between earth and space, hooks the attention while raising some basic, thoughtful questions. What is that makes human behaviour so destructive, even when the consequences are obvious? Why is cruelty often tolerated above compassion? Are humans worth saving when their behavioural negatives often outweigh the positives?
The Martian delegation seems to think we’re worth the effort and having got the measure of the world’s leaders, they decide that British Prime Minister Polly Hawkins is someone they should do business with. It’s hard to disagree with their judgement as Polly is sensible, tough when it matters, and fair minded. She has to be given that she operates in a world largely dominated by men and where long held national rivalries underpin geo-political decisions. Apart from its structure and style, Redemption appeals because the author has made a woman the hero of his story. Polly’s own circumstances make her believable which is why she suits the role Douglas has conferred on her. She is a single parent who somehow juggles the challenges of motherhood with a demanding job. Not only is she an excellent multi-tasker, she’s also a relative political newcomer who having successfully navigated her way through her first administration, is hurtled into a situation that nobody could have foreseen. It is the ultimate leadership test but can Polly’s intelligence, pragmatism, and skill at second guessing people or their motives, steer her through the uncertainty, especially when the US and Russian presidents are abducted?
Redemption is a small book (32 chapters, 184 pages plus an epilogue) bursting with big themes around humanity, power structures, and the ability or otherwise of governments and organisations to work together for the common good. Although they’re not typical fiction ingredients, Douglas has stitched them together into an enjoyable narrative with a pleasing love story running in the background. Not a bad effort for a first-time author!
Reviewed by Juliette Foster