By Jack Skillingstead
First Published: 2009
Review © 2010 by Stephen Roof
Genre: Science Fiction
Harbinger by Jack Skillingstead is a science fiction novel which includes extrapolated human evolution, a coming of age story, and an examination of loves and losses.
The story begins when 18 year old Ellis Herrick wakes up one evening with awareness that something has changed him. Not long after, he is involved in a horrible accident where Ellis finds out that he has incredible healing powers. His body regenerates damaged or missing body parts and his body’s aging has slowed to an almost imperceptible rate. He also finds the love of his life. However, he soon ends up selling himself to a rich tycoon who has established a medical research facility working on slowing the aging process and/or extending the life span of the rich tycoon. As long as Ellis lets the doctors experiment on him and donates key organs when needed, all his needs are provided for except for the need to be loved. Eventually, Ellis decides to explore other options for his life and the novel follows him over the next two centuries.
Harbinger is written in 3 parts. The first part is about young love, coming of age, and the unaccountable biology change giving Ellis super healing powers. Eventually, Ellis becomes famous but his fame comes at a steep price as it seems to attract 3 kinds of people, those who want to use Ellis, those who want to worship him as the “harbinger” of the next step in evolution for the human race, and those who want to kill him. In the second part of the novel, Ellis joins the first attempt to colonize another planet. Then in the last part, Ellis finds himself on the new colonized world where he seems to be losing his grip on reality. Here, he has long term blackouts that last weeks or months and he’s no longer sure when he is awake or dreaming.
I really enjoyed the coming of age/love story of the first part of the novel except that Ellis seemed to abandon his love much too easily. The second part of the novel had some interesting science with the design of the colonizing space ship but this part of the novel wasn’t as engaging as I would like. The last part of the novel brought in some interesting psychology and mysticism. There was also a twist at the end which connected Ellis back to the beginning of his change, bringing the novel full circle.
This novel gives an interesting take on what it would like to be a person who ages much slower than everyone else and highlights the pain associated with watching those that you love age at a much faster rate. However, the writing was a bit uneven with some sections being exciting while others dragged. In the same way, the main character was likeable and engaging at times but at other times was very difficult to like and seemed to make really lame choices.
Initially, Harbinger hooked me with the coming of age love story combined with the unaccountable sudden fantastic healing powers. Unfortunately, this early promise was not sustained although the last part of the novel generated enough interesting ideas to make reading Harbinger worthwhile.