Nick Sagan,
(Penguin Putnam, 2003)

Idlewild is an entertaining and suspenseful science-fiction novel. In spite of some overly familiar plot elements, it holds interest all the way.

The book begins as a young man wakes from unconsciousness and soon realizes he has lost all memory of past events. In a parallel plotline, a man and woman are working to find a cure for a deadly new disease. "Oh no, not again" was my first reaction to both storylines, but Nick Sagan's devious mind moves events in unexpected directions. Eventually the stories are cleverly merged as the hero works to solve a murder-mystery and uncover much of his past, including the cause of his amnesia. I can't describe much more of the plot without spoiling the surprises, but will say that the author's past experience in computer-game design comes in handy.

Though Sagan's characters aren't as strong as his plot, they are sufficiently well-drawn that you will want to know what happens to them next. Gabriel, the hero, is a precocious and likable 18-year old whose rebellious behavior often puts him on the wrong side of authority. That's a good thing, since authority doesn't always have the best slant on what to do next. Gabriel's key friends (maybe) are usually referred to by nickname. Mercutio, for example, in the case of his volatile main confidante, a sometimes cynical computer expert who likes to play practical jokes. Gabriel's love interest is Simone, but she prefers Lazarus, which seems more capable and reliable. A half-dozen other young men and women, each with their own idiosyncrasies and interests, round out the list.

Dr. Jim Hyoguchi, the most interesting character in the parallel plotline, is a Virtual Reality guru with an important role to play in the battle against the Black Ep plague. His frustrated and sometimes irrational reactions to the plague and the job he's undertaken make him one of the book's more human and believable characters.

This is Sagan's first novel. Thanks to 10 years of screenwriting experience and a good editor, you'd never know it, although there is room for improvement. Some of the science is unconvincing, a couple of similes seemed a little forced and I thought the ending was anti-climactic. Sagan is working on a book "related" to Idlewild. It may redeem the ending by developing Gabriel's story further and tying up a few loose ends.

I must mention that Nick Sagan is the son of astronomer Carl Sagan. Carl was best known as a scientist but wrote Contact, a classic SF novel I recommend highly. (You may remember a motion picture version starring Jodie Foster.) Idlewild isn't a classic, but it's an impressive debut and worth a read. I look forward to Nick Sagan's future efforts.

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 1 November 2003

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