Monkey Trap
Lee Denning
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Buy *Monkey Trap (Nova Sapiens, Book 1)* by Lee Denning

Monkey Trap (Nova Sapiens, Book 1)
Lee Denning
Twilight Times Books
423 pages
November 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Monkey Trap is the thoughtful debut book of Lee Denning, the pen name for a pair of writers. It explores a possible first contact situation with extraterrestrial beings who can speed up human evolution.

Two asteroid-like objects collide, and one of them goes down in Columbia, the other in Washington, DC. In Columbia, former soldier and current assassin John Connard is mortally wounded while he's in the process of taking out his current target, a drug lord. However, an alien being lodges into John’s consciousness and accelerates his body’s ability to heal itself. During the healing process, John remembers his life - his parents, his career in the military, his sister's murder, and his decision to avenge her death by killing everyone related to it. Later, a mysterious elderly Irishman called Alex Shaughnessy gives him the opportunity to kill the chief drug lords and sow chaos among the criminals.

John can communicate with the alien in his mind, and it tells him that he is very near the next stage of human evolution, that it only gave him a small nudge so that he can immediately access the power he would naturally develop later. The alien avers that while it is a benevolent being, there is another, similar alien in the world, an Other which wants to destroy humanity. The alien convinces John to seek out the Other in order to kill it - but first John has to learn how to use his newfound powers, which include speed, teleportation, and invisibility.

At the same time in Washington, Lara Picard is healed by another alien being. She also remembers her life as an environmental lawyer, as the wife of an intelligent but abusive man, as a mother, and finally as an FBI lawyer. Her life is influenced by Hamilton O’Donnell, an elderly Irish man related to her late husband. Uncle Ham offered Lara and her son, Josh, a place to stay after the funeral. Both Lara and Josh like Ham very much.

After she has been healed, the alien influence tells her, too, about the other alien, an evil Beast that must be destroyed. Lara starts to experiment with her own powers; meanwhile, her bright son notices that something is very different about his mother.

The flight of the two supposed asteroids has been noted: Aaron O’Meara at Goddard Space Flight Center was one of the first to notice them ,and also the only one unconvinced that they were a natural phenomenon. He starts to investigate.

The chapters comprising Monkey Trap are quite short, and almost every chapter has short scenes from the point of view of John, Lara, and Aaron. Later, there are more point-of-view characters. There is also often a scene with Josh and Ham talking philosophically about evolution and the nature of the universe.

The book begins pretty slowly because of the enormous amount of backstory about John and Lara. Even after things start to move more quickly, scenes filled with philosophical discussion help ensure that Monkey Trap is not a fast-paced read.

The characters are very well developed. John is a former soldier who was so good at his job that he was called the Magician. After his sister's murder, he became so full of rage that he developed a side personality called the Assassin, which comes to the fore when he takes on an assassination job. Lara was a girl from a farm until a nearby drug factory poisoned the water around the farm, leading her to become a lawyer and later an FBI agent to combat the ills of society. They are both decent people with strong moral cores and wills, and although Lara is not a soldier, she is an athlete.

Some of the plot centers on the Consciousness Project, whose scientists have noticed the two aliens and are trying to track them. The Project is quite interesting, and the people involved with it are less ordinary characters. Aaron O’Meara, Adrienne Baxter, and her boss, Nathan Rodgers, are all scientists working on a monumental problem that they are passionate to solve. They offer a nice counterbalance to John and Lara, whose powers are mainly physical.

Even though both Lara and Adrienne are capable women, their presentation is disappointingly sexual and family-oriented. Many of Lara’s memories are about sex, and Adrienne is introduced to the audience in a sex scene. Lara’s life is clearly tethered to her place in a family, first as a daughter and then as a wife and a mother. In contrast, there are brief glimpses of John’s parents and sister, but the remainder of his memories are about career and revenge. Only after halfway through the book is there a hint that he might have a lover, whom he hasn't even considered before that point. After that, he begins thinking about her almost constantly.

Still, Monkey Trap is a nicely philosophical science fiction book about the near future.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Mervi Hamalainen, 2009

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