Ground Zero by F. Paul Wilson
As it should with such a mammoth effort spanning so many novels, novellas and novelettes, the book begins with an author’s note. It apologises for the fact that, after we get back to Nightworld (only two more volumes to go before the loop closes, although a revision of Nightworld itself is promised), there will be no more Repairman Jack. In some senses, this was probable. Having established the broad narrative flow from the Secret Histories onward, it would be quite difficult to create new Jack stories without it being related to the Adversary Cycle in some way. The only real option would be Jack’s first cases before we get to The Tomb. Yet, perhaps after so many million words on the subject, I can well understand Wilson might be tired of him. Except, of course, the same vague rumours of a film version of The Tomb continue to rumble away in the background. This could force Jack on to Wilson’s front burner from time to time. I speculate that a successful film might persuade Jack out of retirement for non-horror-related repairs in the style of Travis McGee — a not-uninteresting prospect.
Anyway, as to Ground Zero (Gauntlet Press, 2009) itself, this is a classic example of a whole new set of blasts from the past all being fitted together into the narrative drive. Characters from the Secret Histories series are suddenly front and centre with a lot more explanation of the links between people being given. At a purely technical level, the structure of the work as a whole is genuinely impressive and it would be fascinating to know how many years ago Wilson began to fit all the pieces together. Although there are inevitable moments of clunkiness as vertical strokes made earlier are crossed or dotted to make the right letters, it’s a pleasure to watch the crew set up the stage for the final scenes by moving props and furniture into position, and getting everything ready for the actors to say their lines.
This is not a “classic” Jack novel with our hero recruited by a client and then cutting through the opposition to a neatly packaged solution. We are now very much on to the fixed set of rails taking us towards Rasalom’s emergence into our world as the representative of the Otherness. To that extent, this is a stepping-stone book to get us from here to there. This is not to deny the ingenuity of the plot. As a conspiracy theory underlying the attack on the Twin Towers, this is a very clever inversion of expectations. There are also innovative solutions to problems. I had always wondered how one might actually get useful information out of the Compendium. Now I know. The introduction of the noosphere and its creation of a beacon to signal its existence to outsiders is just on the right side and not overplayed as a Gaia Earth Mother which would have been far too New Age for my taste. More importantly, the idea of the Fhinntmanchca as a kind of antimatter to switch off the beacon and so undermine the support of the Ally is particularly pleasing. We can cavil at the slight lack of logic that it is not dangerous per se. It can move through the world without damaging anyone or anything unless it touches a person, thing or surface with its hand. But, hey, this is all supernatural magic so it does not need to be logical.
As someone well into the careful reveal of the events leading up to Nightworld, I remain hooked. There are slight moments of tedium where exposition slows things down too much. But, overall, it’s another readable and enoyable book from F. Paul Wilson. It should go without saying that, if you have not read any of the other books, do not start with this. For all the other fans, this is another must-have.