Combustion by Steve Worland

CombustionA review by  Evie Kendal
  • Format: Paperback, 328 pages
  • RRP: $29.99
  • ISBN-13:9781921901119
  • ISBN-10:192190111X
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Publisher: Penguin Aus.

Combustion opens with a football match in which 15-year-old Corey Purchase scores the winning goal moments before an earthquake tears the Adelaide stadium apart, killing his mother and two other spectators. This opening, combined with the novel’s title and cover art of exploding cars, sets the mood for what will be an action-packed story.

After this scene the story jumps immediately to a heist in Los Angeles involving the wealthy (and heavily armed) environmental activist, Zac Bunsen. Described as “a winner in the genetic lottery” who resembles “Brad Pitt’s better looking cousin,” Zac intends to blow up all combustion engines in order to stop exhaust emissions and further pollution of the planet. Think Batman if the Dark Knight was fighting greenhouse gases instead of criminals.

It is a little unclear how much time elapses between Corey’s game and Zac’s attack but the next time we see Corey he is an adult who has spent the last year hitchhiking in America. A former helicopter pilot and sheep farmer in Central Australia, Corey reminisces about his time saving the hijacked shuttle Atlantis 4 with NASA pilots, Judd, Rhonda and Severson.

Having prevented a terrorist bombing in Virginia, all four are now considered heroes and are reuniting as consultants for the movie version of their exploits. However, a brief insight into Judd’s mind during a space shuttle landing simulation suggests there’s more to the story than the media ever found out. Thus, twenty-five pages into the novel Combustion appears to be your standard action-film-as-book, with a little mystery added into the mix….

And then on page twenty-six Corey starts talking to his dog and I mean really talking to him. Just like that the story morphs into something different, flirting with the line between fantasy and realist fiction, not yet committing to either. At the same time a romance plot is introduced between Corey and an LA studio executive named Lola Jacklin, a horrendously awkward love-triangle style romance, but one that remains interesting nonetheless. Lola is fascinated by Corey’s Australian “otherness” and he is good old-fashioned Hollywood starstruck. It’s just a pity billionaire movie star Scott Ford got there first. Never fear though, Corey will have his chance to impress the ladies when he and Judd are called on to save the city from Zac’s eco-terrorism.

Zac has developed a nanotech virus that targets combustion engines, essentially turning all cars into bombs. As his attacks escalate, the heroes from the Atlantis 4 mission must traverse the wreckage and prevent the final phase of Zac’s plan from being enacted, which will send humanity back to the Stone Age. Without giving away too much of the plot, suffice it to say that all the usual James Bond escapades ensue.

Recommendation

This book is suitable for anyone who likes action movies and just wishes they were books. It would also be educational for anyone hoping to write an action movie, as there are some detailed instructions on how to make a successful movie pitch (Corey’s Zompires movie is no doubt already being optioned!). As a scriptwriter, Worland offers great pacing in his novel even if the descriptive language is sometimes a bit less developed. Dialogue and narrative voice are also strong and the novel sustains reader interest throughout. Suitable for adult and young adult readers.