Wednesday, March 7, 2012

HARBINGER by Sean Danker-Smith

Harbinger is a 2012 science fiction thriller by Sean Danker-Smith. Here, a mysterious gun-toting loner type and his unwanted tagalong sidekick investigate sinister doings in a small Washington town.

Danker-Smith’s story is straight-faced on the surface, but at the same time, he doesn’t take it particularly seriously. Harbinger is shamelessly self-aware, with its most obvious references being those to Resident Evil, the zombie genre, and too many ridiculous action movies to count. It never feels particularly ambitious from a literary standpoint; Danker-Smith seems completely concerned with getting a sci-fi thriller movie onto paper, and that’s okay.

The pacing here is generally good; the horror sensibilities are certainly there. Danker-Smith generates some good tension at the beginning and a solid final act, although the middle drags a bit in places, mostly because of conversations that are overlong and don’t advance the story; a number are of substantially greater interest to the characters than to the reader. Harbinger is stronger when it focuses on Frank, who generally gets things done and makes the story go, than on the interminably contrary and less sympathetic Galya. However, none of these storytelling foibles are egregious; the writing, on the whole, is solid, although Harbinger sometimes feels like it could have used one more polish.

The characters tend to move from one plot point to the next with a fair degree of speed and convenience, and it’s rare that the reader feels that they are in any real peril. It is as if the adventure’s degree of difficulty is too low for their abilities, which, naturally, saps some of the suspense. To some extent, this feels deliberate, that Danker-Smith is thumbing his nose at the conventions of the genres in which he’s writing. Similarly, Danker-Smith’s computer hacking is the stuff of TV shows and summer blockbusters (although his level of attention to detail on firearms is phenomenally high). Again, though, this feels like it may be deliberate. The overall effect may take some getting used to, but it works well enough.

In the end, Harbinger is an enjoyable page-turner, and it seems content with achieving that status. The reader should be content as well.


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