In Richard Canhan’s science fiction novel, the year is 2011 when an earthquake causes the collapse of the North Queensland Fitzgerald Gold Mine, trapping the miners several kilometers underground. Austin Jones, the son of archeologists and the youngest engineer on the expedition, is caught further below ground during the aftershocks. As he fights to find a way out, he discovers a system of tunnels – some clearly man-made – dating back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.
He arrives at an enormous arena that had clearly been the site of many terrible battles and realizes that some of the combatants were not human. Frightened by these terrifying skeletons and afraid he will die from dehydration, lack of food, and poor air quality, he investigates this area only superficially and finds a tunnel that leads above ground. Soon, he is discovered by a brother and sister, who make him understand that he is now in 2510 and in a very different world. Austin and his new friends ultimately realize they have a duty to understand the tunnels and to use this knowledge to prevent the devastation of the planet due to global warming and other environmental disasters.
In the first chapters, clear, vivid descriptions and alternating scenes and points of view between Austin and his trapped friend Rick create compelling tension as Austin struggles in the tunnels. Once he is rescued, however, much of the story feels summarized. Although the stakes are very high – the future of humanity – the scenes don’t have the cumulative effect of building to a climax. The added issue of switching tenses, sometimes in a single paragraph, causes confusion.
The story contains intriguing ideas, and Austin has elements of a strong protagonist, but without more fleshing out of his character and dramatic events and encounters, the book lacks the narrative drive to keep readers engaged.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.