cover image Phytosphere


Scott MacKay, . . Roc, $6.99 (376pp) ISBN 978-0-451-46158-2

Mackay (Tides ) manages to breathe life into the tired alien-invasion genre, deftly juggling hard sci-fi and a bleak tale of postapocalyptic survival. In the far future, an advanced, alien race called the Tarsalans, having failed to gain immigration rights from Earth's government, make a last-ditch effort to control negotiations by blanketing the planet in a mysterious shroud that blocks out all sunlight. On the Moon, scientist Gerry Thorndike, a recovering alcoholic, seeks a way to reverse the so-called phytosphere and save his estranged, Earth-bound family. Back on Earth, Gerry's Nobel Prize–winning brother, Neil, scientific adviser to the president, launches a rival crusade to destroy the alien shroud. Meanwhile, Gerry's wife, Glenda, struggles to protect her family as perpetual darkness decimates crops and plant life, inspiring violence among neighbors desperate for food. Neil and Gerry's prolonged, dispassionate debates over the task at hand teem with intriguing concepts, but often eclipse any sense of urgency over their imperiled loved ones. Luckily, Glenda's tale, peppered throughout, drips with claustrophobic suspense and ruthless antagonists: corrupt lawmen, starving predators and the Tarsalans themselves. While the resolution is anything but unexpected, Mackay churns up enough high-tech intrigue and old-fashioned suspense to make a fresh read. (June)