J.T. Brannan – Origin

jtbrannan-originResearch scientist Evelyn Edwards always knew the Antarctic held deep secrets, yet the discovery of a 40,000-year-old-body buried under the icecaps surpasses even her wildest expectations. But just as her team begins extracting the body the dream turns into a horrific nightmare as they are targeted for death by someone who wants to keep this secret buried. Evelyn barely escapes with her life…

On the run, alone and desperate, she turns to her ex-husband Matt Adams, a former member of an elite government unit, for help. Soon, they find themselves caught up in a frantic race against time, which takes them from Area 51 to the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, as they try to uncover the biggest conspiracy of all time before it’s too late for everyone…

In my teens I was a huge X-Files fan. And when I say huge, I mean the kind that had taped all the episodes from TV, had the official season companions, and debated endless theories on the identity of the Well-Manicured Man, The Cigarette-Smoking Man, what happened to Samantha, and so and so forth. So when handed a review copy of a thriller on the origin of mankind and a mention of Area 51, I’m there—aliens, conspiracies, shadowy organisations, my fifteen-year-old self would have kicked me for passing it by. And while I enjoyed this trip down memory lane, I had some problems with Brannan’s writing in Origin.

First and foremost, there is the info dumping; because there is a lot of info dumping in this book. The reason is quite understandable as there is quite a lot of background information that needs to be conveyed, both of a scientific nature and as regards the various theories and conspiracies that surround the possibility of aliens having visited Earth. However, Brannan’s manner of going into these explanations is far from elegant. The narrative is mainly told in third person simple past tense, but on numerous occasions Brannan starts a new paragraph after a white line in the present tense and gives a short – sometimes single sentence – explanation about the location we’re in, the science being discussed etc. which only emphasised the fact that here was an explanation. There was a lot of telling, not showing of the most important plot points and that made for a less than smooth reading experience.

Several other things nagged. The story is told from an omniscient third person point of view, which admittedly isn’t my favourite narrative viewpoint. What bothered me most about it though was the inconsistency of some of the name usage. For example, Lynn is consequently referred to as Lynn, except when we’re watching through the villains’ consciousness, when she is referred to as Edwards. However, Matt Adams is, with a few exceptions when Lynn is contemplating emotional things, always referred to as Adams, even when we’re following Lynn, which makes no sense, as he’s her ex and theirs doesn’t seem the kind of relationship where they playfully call each other by their last name. The story head hops quite a bit. While it’s never unclear in whose head we are, there are a lot of heads to keep track off and that compared with the letter soup the villains swim around in (all the TLA-agencies and then some are represented) can get a little confusing.

While I obviously had some issues with the writing, there is also a lot Brannan gets right. In Lynn and Adams he has a very sympathetic pair of lead characters, who it’s very easy to root for. We learn only a little about their history, but we do get to watch them reconnect and realise that they still love each other, a development which is very enjoyable to follow. Still, Origin isn’t a book that is powered by its development of character; it’s driven by its nail-biting plot. Our characters get little or no chance to breathe during the entire novel, as they are continually on the run, first to evade their enemies and later to prevent them from carrying out their nefarious plan. It is here that Origin shines with a well thought through plot and short, pacey chapters that make reading ‘just one more chapter’ both very easy and very treacherous, because stopping at one more is all but impossible.

What Brannan definitely gets right is his research into the various alien theories and conspiracies, not just those concerning aliens, but larger ones as well. He not only name checks and incorporates a lot of the standard alien-related phenomena, such as Roswell, Area 51, the Nazca lines, and the theories of Erich von Däniken, but also brings in other well-loved objects of conspiracy theorist, such as the Bilderberg Group and the Large Hadron Collider. It was fun spotting all of these and seeing how Brannan put them together in quite an original way.

Origin ends on a large ‘Aha!’-moment, one I hadn’t seen coming at all, though Brannan had seeded the clues to this from almost the start of the novel. Then again hindsight is 20/20 and this gathering together of clues and still being surprised is what makes reading these kinds of books such fun. The ending of Origin is intriguing and leaves an opening for a sequel, though I haven’t been able to discover anything on a second book set in this world in the works. Despite my issues with the writing, Origin‘s plot comes through to form a good, if flawed, debut. Brannan shows he’s got the chops to come up with a very interesting plot, great action and a break-neck pace. It’ll be interesting to see how he develops as a writer, because the story-telling talent is there. Meanwhile, if you enjoy a good, roaring fast thriller with an X-Files vibe, Origin is the book for you.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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