Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 6, 2019


Artifact by Kevin J. Anderson, Janet Berliner, Matthew J. Costello, and F. Paul Wilson  (2003)

This is the story of a book that did not know what it wanted to be when it grew up.

This is the embodiment of the old chestnut about too many cooks.

'Tis a pity.  Here we have four talented, successful authors combining their efforts to produce a sum far less than their equal parts.  Anderson is the author of over 140 books, a third of which have been on the bestseller lists.  His books include The Saga of the Seven Suns series, the Dan Shambles, Zombie P.I. series, the Terra Incognito series. the Dune prequels series (with Brian Herbert), and several forests-worth of tie-in and spin-off novels.  Janet Berliner (died 2012) was a Bram Stoker Award winning author and past president of The Horror Writers of America.  She was the author of the Madagascar Manifesto series and was the editor of six highly regarded anthologies -- including two each edited with Peter S. Beagle and magician David Copperfield.  Matt Costello is the author of over 25 book, including Wurm, Beneath Still Waters, the children's books series The Kids of Einstein Elementary, and a number of tie-in and spin-off novels  Costello has written a number of computer, role playing, and board games, including the best selling CD-ROMs The Seventh Guest and The Eleventh Guest.  With F. Paul Wilson, he created and wrote FTL Newsfeed which ran daily on the Sci-Fi Channel from 1992-1996.  Wilson is the best-selling author of The Secret History of the World, which includes The Repairman Jack series, the Adversary series, the ICE trilogy, and Black Wind, and the science fiction series The Lanague Chronicles.  His books have won four Prometheus Awards and one Bram Stoker Award and he has been cited for lifetime achievement from The Horror Writers of America and The Prometheus Society.  With Costello, he co-authored the novels Mirage and Masques.  A talented group, indeed.

Skipping the prologue for a moment, we open on an ocean platform just off Trinidad, where Frikkie Van Alman, the ruthless mega-jillionaire owner of Oilstar, is watching a drilling operation.  The drill is bringing up sludge and rock -- and something else -- from below.  The "something else" is four irregularly-shaped objects -- unrecognizable, from some strange material, and obviously artificial.  The drill had gone through the ocean floor and into an undersea cave, where the four objects had come from.  Frikkie does not know what these objects are but he instinctively realizes they are valuable; the four pieces fit together like parts of a jigsaw puzzle.  He gives the pieces to Paul Trujold, the Trinidadian who ran Oilstar's local laboratory, to investigate the objects.  At the same time, Frikkie's local divers refused to go down to check out the undersea cave but they refused due to some local superstitions.  Frikkie managed to bully two men to go but they died in the effort.  At the lab, Paul discovers that the pieces were made of some unknown material and that when placed together, they appeared to be a source of unlimited energy -- a potential clean power source that could eliminate the need for oil altogether.  With the pieces locked together, Paul also realized there was a missing fifth piece -- what could happen if the fifth piece were joined to the others was beyond comprehension.

Paul considers this important enough to release the news as soon as possible, but Frikkie wants to hold off, partly because of this means for his oil business and partly because he wants to find the fifth piece and see where that leads them -- with the final piece, Frikkie imagines he could become the most powerful man in  the world.  Paul sends the pieces to four people, including his daughter Selene, a radical environmental terrorist.  The others went to members of the Daredevil Club.  In a fit of anger, Frikkie accidentally kills Paul and burns himself.

Which brings us to the prologue, set on New Year's Eve seventeen years earlier, in Granada.  Dr. Arthur Merryshaw had been a political prisoner of the the Government and was scheduled to be executed the next day.  Sixteen-year-old Peta Whyte, who had been raised by Merryshaw after her parents died, concocted a plan to free her friend and enlisted his friends Frikkie and movie stuntman and former Green Beret Ray Arno to help her.  Although the plan worked, Peta was forced to kill two guards before Merryshaw was freed.  Merryshaw, Frikkie, and Ray, excited by the adventure, decided to form the Darcdevils Club, which would meet every New Year's Eve to brag about any risky adventures they had the previous year.  Peta was not allowed to join the club because of her age and because she was a girl.

Back now to New Year's Eve, 1999.  Membership of the Daredevils Club had changed over the years.  Members had died (including, to Peta's resentment, at least one woman) and had been added and the membership now included Merryshaw, Frikkie, Ray, diver Simon Brousseau, and security specialists Terris McKendry and Joshua Keene.  Peta and Merryshaw meet early in the evening for their annual dinner before Merryshaw is to go to the meeting which was to be held in his New York City penthouse.  A bomb in the men's room kills Merryshaw and Ray takes the shaken Pata to the meeting to break the news to the others.  Before leaving the body, Peta (who had received a piece of the artifact) requests that Merryshaw's piece of the artifact be released to her as Merryshaw's heir as soon as possible.  At the meeting, Peta takes Merryshaw's place as he had requested if he ever died.   Frikkie enlists the aid of the Club to find the missing pieces.  Peta keeps mum about her piece and the Merryshaw's piece.

Back to Trinidad.  Frikkie is still trying to get someone into the underwater cave to find the fifth piece.  He convinces Simon Brousseau to go after it.  Brousseau has developed a severe heart condition that makes the dive very risky.  Nevertheless, he enters the cave (which is located more than 120 feet below the surface, and finds a smooth passageway with strange alien carvings on the wall.  He has a severe bout of angina and has to surface.  Brousseau is determined to go again in a few days.  Peta finds out and races to stop him, arriving too late.  She dives after him and discovers his body in the cave; in his hands is the fifth piece of the artifact.  Frikkie sends a flunkie down to see what's happening.  The flunky, believing that this is what Frikkie wants, cuts Peta's air hose, leaving her to die, and retrieves the piece of the artifact.  Peta, being Peta, manages to escape but, when she surfaces, finds both Frikkie and the artifact gone.

Discovering that Selene Trujold and her gang of terrorists planned to attack Frikkie's oiil platform the Valhalla, McKendry and Keene travel to the Valhalla aboard the oil liner Yucatan, which is scheduled to be loaded with oil from the Valhalla.  It turns out that Selene's real plan was to hijack the liner and destroy it with its load of oil.  McKendry and Keene call Frikkie and have him send reinforcements while they try to delay the terrorists.  With the boat rigged to explode, McKendry takes two bullets to the chest.  Keene wrestles with a terrorist trying to set off the explosives and somehow manages to set off a minor explosion blowing him and the terrorist off the boat.  Badly wounded, McKendry inches his way to the man in charge and manages to cut the wires before he passes l\out.

McKendry manages to live but has been altered by the death of his friend.  Driven, he takes over the lax security on Frikkie's platform and brings it up to -- and beyond -- speed.  Ah, but Keene is not dead.  He has been pulled out of the sea by Selene and is recuperating in her jungle hideout.  Eventually he and Selene become lovers.  McKendry eventually learns where the jungle hideout is and brings a group of men to slaughter everyone there to avenge the friend he thinks is dead.  Keene and a mortally wounded Selene manage to escape.  Not knowing McKendry is alive, he vows to destroy the platform in revenge. 

So where does that leave us with the artifacts?  Peta has one piece, Arthur's piece is in the custody of the New York City police, Keene has Selene's pieces, Frikkie has the piece from the cave, but what about the other piece?  Well, Frickie has it, but I'll be damned if I remember how he got is or who he got it from.  No matter.  Peta gives Frikkie her piece and Frikkie bribes the police to get the piece in their possession, so Frikkie ends up with four of the five pieces.  Comes New Years Eve, 2000, and as the new millennium dawns, we have a few last-minute, golly-gee, pull 'em out of your butt surprises.  Finally the five pieces are joined and...

Well, let's just say that this supposed thriller has a terrible, anti-climatic, non -thriller ending.


What we have here is a not too coherent soap opera with stock characters and stock elements, with all the players acting merely as the authors want them too rather than acting to fit their characters.  The thrilling parts aren't really.  Questions are never answered.  Any surprises are not even worthy of a teenager's adventure fantasy.  And where the hell is the editor of this mess?

I have no idea how this book was written, but it does not appear to be written round-robin style.  The medical parts, I assume, were contributed by Wilson, a physician, but the rest of it, who knows.  The idea and the origin of the Daredevils Club is comic book-y ludicrous.  The book jumps back and forth and does not provide logical transitions or even plausible back stories.  Actually, I may be doing a disservice by saying the book was written; rather, let us say it was concocted.  This may well have been meant to be the start of a series about the Daredevil Club; if so, count us lucky there never was a follow-up from any of the authors.

Perhaps I'm just in a bad mood or perhaps I am just too jaded.  Your mileage may vary.

Nonetheless, I'm going to file this under I Read So You Don't Have To.

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