The Prometheus Project (Steve White)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Prometheus Project is an ambitious hard sci-fi adventure.  It takes the tired trope of a government conspiracy designed to keep the existence of aliens secret from the public and re-imagines it as something both compelling and rational.  The story is well developed and every scene is integral to the greater plot rather than just something tacked on to fill space.  There aren’t that many characters, but each one feels fleshed out and interesting.  The setting is really well thought out and something of a treat for fans of hard sci-fi world building.  I saw somewhere that this book was being presented as appropriate young adult sci-fi, but I would be somewhat apprehensive of exposing it to that audience without a warning that there is a bit of sex and violence that might offend some sensibilities.  Overall, I would heartily recommend the book; it was a treat to read and should please sci-fi fans of almost any variety.

Greater Detail:
Bob Devaney is a dishonorably discharged former military operative.  He scrapes out a living on the fringes of legality doing jobs for shadowy employers he knows next to nothing about.  When he is tasked with escorting a woman on a mysterious errand to see the recently appointed President, his life takes a strange turn and he soon finds himself embroiled in a gigantic conspiracy that spans the entire globe and incalculable distances beyond it.

One thing that really stood out with this book is that the author is able to make what is very much a large scale story very personal and intimate.  Most hard sci-fi has the problem that when the scope gets too big you lose any real characterization and the author is forced to resort to uninteresting archetypes which more sort of fill in for or represent an abstraction of humanity rather than feeling like something you can actually connect with in a meaningful way.  The characters in this book aren’t the most detailed or deep, but they manage to convey the essentials to become genuine, feeling characters and not just caricatures, and this human connection roots the reader in a way that makes the grand hard sci-fi concepts feel more real and intriguing than is typical for most hard sci-fi.

There is a bit of a romance element as well that I initially dismissed as an unnecessary distraction meant to dull the book’s hard sci-fi edge and make the book more appealing to more emotionally-driven audiences, but the romantic elements are in fact quite essential to the overall plot, which was a very nice surprise.  I am rarely moved by any romantic elements, but I found myself compelled to actually care about what happened.  It isn’t the grandest of romances, but the fact that it is central to what is actually happening in the book overall is a really nice departure from the standard tacked-on love interest, so I can’t help but give the author credit for taking this frequently overused literary addition and actually making it useful as well as emotionally meaningful.

Honestly, there isn’t much I could see that needed improving in the book overall.  I enjoyed the book from front cover to back, and the only parts I didn’t enjoy were avenues that I imagined the story could divert into that it never did.  I suppose the action bits could have been a little more tense and meaningful, there could have been a little less setup and touristy looking around in the narrative, and the author could have worked a little harder at characterization, but overall these are such minor complaints that they don’t in any way reduce my enthusiasm for the book as a whole.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
I’m having a little trouble comparing other authors to this one because it is so rare that I find hard sci-fi compelling emotionally.  I’m not sure whether I would call it hard sci-fi or not, but the closest I can think of in tone would be Alan Dean Foster’s Taken trilogy starting with Lost and Found.  There isn’t the same romantic thread there, but it very much had a similar feeling of one man against an alien and dangerous situation to me.

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