Robin Parrish's Offworld
Although I'm sure I'm not much younger than Robin Parrish, I feel like I grew up with Robin Parrish's work. In the earlier days of the Internet, Robin Parrish was one of the leading journalists covering the Christian music scene on the Internet with his site on About.com. At a time when I was running my own, much less successful Christian music site, I read his insightful reviews and commentary constantly. When I graduated from high school, Robin was doing stuff that he was more interested in, covering movies, novels, and comic books with an even more undying fervor. It was during this time that Robin started publishing his own novels online, the last of which became a real, paperback novel this month. It's titled Offworld.
Like the Dominion Trilogy that Parrish released the last couple years, Offworld starts with a mysterious hook. Everyone is gone. Everyone. It's 2033 and the first manned mission to Mars has returned to earth successfully, but no one is there to greet them. Even the animals and bugs are mysteriously gone. After four years by themselves in space, this is hardly the welcome the team wanted.
Thus, the crew sets out to unravel this mystery. Along the way, the reader finds that these astronauts have their own personal secrets. Plus, there's an anti-social young woman who seems to have spent her whole life on the streets and is the only person to not have disappeared. Not to mention that it seems that nature itself is trying to stop them from finding the answers.
Within Offworld, Robin Parrish creates characters that are as flawed and realistic as they are NASA's biggest heroes. Throughout all his books so far, the characters have always had some mystery, such that just when you think you know them, they surprise you with a new wrinkle to their story. These are definitely no exception, and with less than a half-dozen main characters, there's plenty of time to get to know them well. Although the character development has very little action to it, this was probably my favorite part of the novel.
Speaking of action, I found this the hardest book yet to put down. Nearly every chapter ends on a total cliffhanger. As many have said before me, Parrish's books will someday do really well as summer blockbuster films, and Offworld is no exception. (That is, as long as Roland Emmerich doesn't direct it and make the climax happen in New York.) In fact, the book was so intense I finished it less than 24 hours after picking it up. Good thing it was a weekend, or else I would have suffered at work from either sleep deprivation or thinking of nothing but what might happen next.
So what about Parrish being a "Christian"? Does the book create some big allegory to our life in Christ? Do some of the main characters get "saved"? Thankfully, no, Parrish's books are not preachy. The heroes of the book exude characteristics that Christ teaches us like selflessness, hope, and sound morals. Some characters beg a higher power for help, but Parrish doesn't slow the story down with any theological lessons. In my opinion, it's great to see persons of faith writing positive, engaging stories that are for everyone, not just a church-going audience.
If you're looking for a fun, engaging read during the heat of summer, check out Offworld. I'm hoping it'll be hitting theaters in Summer 2013, but don't count on it; get the book now and you'll be ahead of everyone else.
P.S. - Going back to my old days with Robin Parrish publishing his early revisions of novels on the Internet, I hope something like that continues. I don't read many novels, but because Parrish's stories were released (at least partially) for free on the Internet, I was hooked. I'm not exactly sure if the first chapter will suffice for me as a hook to get me to buy the book - I'd like to see more to promote upcoming books online.