4 out of 4 stars
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Shield Down is a science fiction novel that masterfully presents a seemingly impossible scenario as possible. Professor Templeton first discovered SGR 0245+05 in 1982 when it projected a minor burst in close proximity to Earth. Based on his research, this magnetar follows a 25-year cycle with a series of small-scale eruptions that will lead to a catastrophic explosion with devastating effects on Earth. In 2032 the magnetar finally erupts with its final burst. Now seventy-seven-years old, Professor Templeton fears the worst for humanity.
Professor Templeton’s controversial research has left him with a somewhat questionable reputation among experts. Unbeknownst to him, his former lover and most harsh critic took his findings seriously. With her prominent position at NASA, Jacqueline convinced the government to secretly begin construction on various underground habitats in preparation for this cataclysmic event. Likewise, Bazany, one of Templeton’s former students, began his construction on a cave system in Texas to hopefully preserve a small group of people. With all this preparation underway, will these safe havens prove viable in sustaining life while Earth recovers? Exactly how long will they need to survive underground before they can expect to return to the surface?
The premise initially intrigued me, and upon finishing the novel, I found that the execution quite surprised me. William de Berg adopted a serious tone in presenting his vision of an apocalyptic event resulting in a sobering reading experience. The first part of the narrative focuses on events before the final burst, with the second part focusing on the aftermath. Part one contained quite a bit of scientific jargon and exposition, but I encourage readers to soldier through these sections as it lays a thick foundation for the story. Professor Templeton and his companions are often at odds with NASA and other leading experts, and I found their research and reasoning fascinating. My favorite part was Bazany’s detailed construction of his cave system. I quickly realized that being fully prepared for an uninhabitable Earth is nearly an impossible feat to accomplish.
Part two was by far the most engaging for me. We first follow Templeton as he tries to make his way back home from Washington to Boulder. This task proved difficult as the burst caused a total grid shutdown. With no way of communicating and almost no electronic systems working, the author did an excellent job at portraying society's descent into desperation and destruction. I also found the various obstacles the underground facilities had to deal with fascinating. As for the ending, I will leave it to readers to discover what the author envisions as the ultimate outcome for humanity.
I couldn't find anything to dislike about this novel. The author doesn’t sugarcoat anything about this devastating event. He leaves you with much to think about as he opens your eyes to the possible outcomes of an apocalyptic event at this scale. I think he portrayed humanity’s slow descent into darkness exceptionally well. I felt the horror as food became scarce, and plants, crops, animals, and people began to die because of the radiation. I felt the hopelessness of the characters as I discovered along with them that it was only going to get worse.
I award Shield Down the highest rating of 4 out of 4 stars. I believe it was professionally edited since I only found three errors while reading. The story is free of graphic violence, but it does contain some profanity. It is not a light-hearted novel but rather a thought-provoking narrative that emphasizes the importance of taking care of Earth, our only home. Solid science fiction fans who enjoy realistic accounts of apocalyptic events will appreciate what this novel has to offer. All things considered, this is a novel I will not soon forget.
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