This review originally appeared 05/23/10 in my meta/review blog.
For reasons fans of Baen’s Bar, the fan web board for Baen Books will be very familiar with, this book could be subtitled “The One Where Joe Buckley Doesn’t Die.” (Joe Buckley is the name of a fan who is frequently Tuckerized and “red shirted” by certain Baen authors as something of a running joke.) It could also be titled “Geeks Go to Mars on a Date and Paleontology Happens” for the number of characters who are hooked up and/or hitched by the end of the novel. (I consider this to be a selling point as the romances are well developed and very cute. Flint loves him some romance, and it’s apparent that his writing partner does too.) It’s a novel that combines space exploration themes with paleontology–two great tastes that turn out to taste great together.
The book opens up in a near future setting (the technology is clearly advanced in some ways, and the setting is a few decades post a political situation that has echoes of both Heinlein’s Revolt in 2100 and the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993). Two amateur paleontologists (they are actually engineers involved in a commercial space flight project) are assisting a professional paleontologist named Helen Sutter at a dig when they come across an unusual fossil right on the “boundary,” of the KT extinction (the event that nailed down the coffin lid for the dinosaurs). This fossil turns out to be an interesting bit of “problematica” that could potentially ruin Helen’s career–because the fossil belongs to a creature like nothing on earth.
This is not a book that’s big on action (the adventure is mostly based on the idea of exploration motivated by the discovery of alien, intelligent, space faring life, though life that’s been extinct for eons). Boundary has a slow start as characters and themes are introduced. The closest it gets to a political thriller is a situation involving Madeline Fathom, who has been assigned to keep an eye on the project and make sure any (weapon) technology found isn’t sent to the wrong people. She is not presented as the Enemy in this story line however. (Though that would otherwise have been an obvious casting choice since the one of the main themes is “information has a metaphysical desire for liberty,” to paraphrase a line in the book.) Instead, she’s one of the Romantic Interests for one of the other characters, and has a pivotal role in the outcome of the story.
I really enjoyed this book, and plan on reading the sequel Threshhold, when it becomes available.