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Phytosphere by Scott Mackay
Review by Steve Sawicki
Roc Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780451461582
Date: 05 June 2007 List Price $6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

The tarsalans have begun to turn Earth's atmosphere into a seething green soup, setting off a chain of death beginning with plankton and ending with humans. The fate of all humans rest in the hands of two men, one on earth and one on the moon.

Phytosphere is somewhat of a throwback to the 1950s. It has the kind of plot one would find in the pulps of that time, or even Astounding. The basic idea is that this alien race, the Tarsalans, have come to Earth because they need space. They're negotiating to establish settlements on the planet and the negotiations aren't going that well. The Tarsalans want more space than humans are willing to give them--a lot more. So the Tarsalans, who are masters of game theory, step back and establish a green sphere about Earth. This sphere has become part of the upper atmosphere and slowly, sunlight begins to get cut off. Neil Thorndike is one of the two scientists who stands a chance to figure out how to defeat the Tarsalan weapon. The other is Neil's brother Gerry, who just happens to be on the moon. Gerry has always been in Neil's shadow and while Neil is more of a concrete thinker, Gerry works as much on intuition as he does on facts. Barely able to communicate with each other, the two work frantically to figure out a way to negate the green cloud which daily thickens, turning Earth into a planet where nothing can grow and where food is something you kill for.

The basic idea behind this book is actually quite interesting--something getting put into the atmosphere which slowly chokes out light, killing everything on the planet below. But, just like many of the stories in the 1950s the idea is pretty much all you get here. The alien Tarsalans aren't much more than the device used to put the green goo into the air. They're not that involved in other goings ons. The two brothers are barely developed characters, driven more by a few emotions, than anything else. And the supporting cast is more reactive than anything else. There's even that most recent of character additions, the bimbo looking blonde who's really smart as a whip. This character has popped up in any number of novels lately, as a stripper, a Hooters waitress, a car hop and, in this case, a show girl. These are the kind of women that science fiction fans turned authors fantasize about evidently. Eventually, the plot gets resolved through the use of a wild scheme that barely works, humanity is shown sinking to its basest denominators, the scientists save the day and all the survivors live happily ever after.

This book is actually perfect beach reading, plenty of entertainment and little serious thinking. It's a fairly quick read being fast paced and written to keep the action up front. The aliens will most likely disappoint everyone since they could really have been the Russians, a terrorist group, a scientist's experiment gone bad, or any number of other plot devices. The idea that they operate under some kind of game theory really only has relevance once and that's simply to move the plot to the next page. Recommended if you are looking for something light and on the surface.

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