Title: The Stars Beyond the Mesa
Author: Pete A O’Donnell
Genre: Science fiction
The Stars Beyond the Mesa is a science-fiction novel about a dangerous experiment gone terribly wrong, triggering a potentially Earth-altering event.
In a remote desert facility, even the children of the scientists involved don’t fully know what’s going on. After a mysterious disaster, a series of bizarre events occur, including blinding lights at night, shadowy beings in the desert, and attacks that leave the victims barely alive. As the adults are all preoccupied with what’s going on in the facility, it falls on the children to piece together what is happening from scraps of information and their own investigations.
Children swept up in life-or-death decisions have long been a staple of the science-fiction genre, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone stale. In this story, the danger is coming directly for them and they are merely trying to understand what is happening and survive. As they are unable to get answers from the adults in their lives, they turn to one another for the information they need. And, of course, they take off on their own to find out even more.
It is the clarity in the way these young characters are depicted that anchors the story. Their personalities are quickly established, but not because they are stereotypical. The author introduces each in such a way that the reader quickly understands who they are. They are also distinct and different from one another in their words, decisions, and actions. They each have full backstories, though in this first installment in a planned series, the reader only has hints to some of them. This adds many small mysteries to the main one centering on the unfolding disaster.
The action sequences are clearly and concisely described. Events unfold quickly with just the right amount of detail to paint the scene. As the plot progresses, the author also somehow manages to convey the mind-bending nature of the threat they are facing in a way that is still quickly grasped by the reader. Some readers may find the physical abilities of the children slightly unrealistic, as a couple of them are still able to function despite grievous wounds. Also, the ending can feel less than resolved, even though it is the first in a series.
Nevertheless, with such originality in characters and enemies, this novel will be enjoyable for many speculative fiction readers. It is particularly recommended to readers drawn toward stories of unforeseen scientific ramifications, horror or monster thrillers, or those interested in physics, quantum theory, wormholes, and the like. As it centers on a group of young people, it would also appeal to young readers, but not exclusively.
In all, The Stars Beyond the Mesa is a story about how strong, young people can be when called upon to protect the ones they love. But it is also about the vast amount humans still don’t understand about the universe and the limitations of the human mind. With the pacing of a thriller, the desert setting of classic science-fiction, and a cast of likable characters, O’Donnell has created a compelling beginning to what is sure to be a grand adventure.
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