The Orion Plan

Mark Alpert. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-06541-4

Astronomer Sarah Pooley, the heroine of this so-so near-future story of alien invasion from Alpert (Extinction), has gradually rebuilt her career with NASA after prematurely proclaiming that life has been found on Mars, a misjudgment that ended her engagement to her fiancé and sent her to a psychiatric facility. Meanwhile, Sarah spots what appears to an asteroid on a collision course with Earth, but it’s in fact an alien probe. When it lands in upper Manhattan, it drains electricity on a massive scale from the city’s power grid and injects nanodevices into those who come into contact with it, starting with a gangbanger, an alcoholic homeless man, and a woman ravaged by cancer. The split focus on these three characters, at the expense of Sarah, doesn’t pay off, but a bigger negative is the absence of any real scares or a feeling of genuine menace. Fans can hope that next time Alpert regains the form of his previous, more imaginative work. [em]Agent: Dan Lazar, Writers House. (Feb.) [/em]