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by David Koepp
Harper, June 2022
304 pages
ISBN: 0062916475

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Summer 2022 has seen some interesting activity on the surface of the sun, with solar flares detected on May 4 and in mid-June of this year. A few news sources warned that the June flare's coronal mass ejection--a kind of flaming softball pitched towards earth by the sun--could cause electrical blackouts. I am not sure if, in fact, it did, but it's very hot, and solar flares get people worried.

Those people include author David Koepp, whose screenwriting credits include the original JURASSIC PARK movie and several other examples of science fiction and/or horror. Are solar flares as potentially dangerous to humanity as reanimated dinosaurs? Koepp thinks so. His novel AURORA begins with a reminder of the "Carrington Event"--the most disruptive solar flare in recorded history. On September 1-2, 1859, astronomer Richard Carrington observed, a massive solar flare blew up telegraph stations around the world, causing fires, communications failures, and mild panic. Had the electric grid existed then, Koepp points out, it, too, would have been disrupted.

In AURORA, it's the early 21st century, immediately post-COVID pandemic, and a solar flare knocks out the electrical grid. It's first noticed by 88-year-old physicist Norman Levy, of Indiana, and his sometime student, Percy St. John, of Virginia. As the United States veers off the grid and is confronted with various other solar-provoked emergencies, Koepp follows the travails of a small group of survivalists, primarily Silicon Valley millionaire Thom Wheeler, who has built himself an atomic-age style prepper bunker for just this eventuality, and his estranged sister Aubrey, whose immediate problems are rather more human, in the form of her ex Rusty, an inebriated, abusive, gambling addict, who has left her his teenage son Scott and is trailed by some dangerous criminals to whom he owes gambling debts.

Thom, Aubrey, Scott, his girlfriend, and Rusty are all one-dimensional characters, real enough but never complex, and the crisis causes them to come together in ways typical of the divorce-rattled families of the JURASSIC PARK franchise. Thom tries to reason his way out of the crisis, treating it as a Silicon Valley type problem. "Disorder, entropy, and vulnerability will not be tolerated," he tells himself. "Those chaos monkeys will not be released." He must "create order," but knows that "the simplest way to bind a system is to threaten it." Indeed, the chaos creates new human connections and bonds. Thom learns that his bunker will not protect him from the failures and treachery of other people, and so ventures out into the sun-scorched world.

Meanwhile, Aubrey's dreadful backstory is revealed via a chapter-length interior monologue characterized by clunky exposition. Subsequently, a predictable crisis of decidedly human causation develops. Into this crisis, Koepp injects a good guy with a gun, and everything turns out all right. All in all, a predictable piece of scientific horror and a thoroughly American story of crisis and renewal.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, July 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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