It seems that video games aren’t the only form of media that follows a drought/deluge release cycle. Suddenly we’re awash in new books as well as novel gaming experiences. There’s a remark in there about a day containing only so many hours, but, really, is there a better ‘problem’ to have than, “Too Many Fun Things to Read/Play?” Rank that up there near the top of #nerdworldproblems.
So now we can follow the example of the recent entry to the Kitchen Codex and give some of the less frequently featured sections of the site some overdue attention. We get to return to books with A Vision of Fire: A Novel by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin. Yes, it’s that Gillian Anderson, she of the X-Files fame, making her authorial debut with this title.
I don’t know. Gillian’s a good actress, but how is she as a writer?
We’ll get to that, no worries. First, a synopsis!
A Vision of Fire will feel very familiar to fans of the X-Files, as it's set up like an extended monster-of-the-week style episode. We're presented with several seemingly disconnected but instantly engaging vignettes: a girl and her father are attacked by mysterious gunmen during an early morning walk to the girl's school, meanwhile, off the coast of Antarctica, a highly skilled thief loots a strange artifact that had only just been uncovered by a research vessel. In the aftermath of the attempted assassination, the girl begins exhibiting disturbing symptoms and behaviors that seem more akin to demonic possession than to any known illness. Her parents are beside themselves with worry, but are loathe to seek medical treatment. The father is India's ambassador to the UN and cannot brook distractions as he's buried in the midst of intense negotiations with Pakistan concerning the fate of Kashmir.
Enter Dr. Caitlin O'Hara, a tough but highly distinguished psychiatrist who specializes in adolescent trauma. She's brought onto the case by a former undergraduate classmate, and source of romantic tension, who is now acting as a translator for the Indian diplomatic delegation. While Caitlin expresses deep compassion and concern for her young patient, she finds herself increasingly frustrated as the cause of the girl's malady continues to defy definition. As the symptoms worsen, Caitlin discovers that her charge is not alone in her preternatural suffering, with two similar cases popping up in disparate corners of the globe and only one common occurrence linking them together: a family member's recent encounter with death.
As new information continues to stream in the situation grows murkier and more dire. The diplomatic negotiations sour and suddenly nuclear war becomes a very real possibility while Caitlin's patient teeters on the brink of total madness. Visions of a potentially ancient civilization color the experiences of the afflicted in disturbing and seemingly impossible ways. All the while a shadowy, long-established elite club of world travelers engage in potentially nefarious and bizarre activities. Are these all linked somehow? Can catastrophe be averted?
That being said, the ending may prove a bit bumpy for some readers. The narrative builds to a frenetic crescendo, then abruptly changes tone but leaves much unresolved. The majority of this can be attributed to the fact that A Vision of Fire is supposed to be the first book in a series, so keeping that in mind may help prevent frustrations towards the end of the text.
The characterization is arguably the strongest part of the book, despite the fact that I couldn't stop picturing Dr. O'Hara as Dana Scully. Most of the individuals, even the non-human ones, we're introduced to remains believable and engaging despite the absurdities of the situations that are driving them. There are only a couple of one-dimensional exceptions to this, though that may also be tied back to the first-book-in-a-series phenomenon and we may see more from these people in the next installments.
Final Grade: B/B+
Bottom Line: If you come at A Vision of Fire prepared for a thrilling, psuedo-metaphysical ride, then you'll likely have an enjoyable reading experience; just don't take it too seriously. Even if it doesn't prompt fond memories of paranormal investigation, at 300 pages it'll be over in only a handful of sittings. It's a fast, fun read that will likely be a welcome distraction during the upcoming holiday travel season.