A dim red glow illuminated the cavern, the sides of which appeared to have been carved by a massive impact. The texture of the stone looked like it had melted and flowed before solidifying again. It was roughly fifty feet wide and nearly as tall. However, it was not the melted rock that made her heart pound.
At the back of the cavern rested a huge, saucer-shaped object.
Title: The Second Ship
Author: Richard Phillips
Rating: 3/5 stars
The Second Ship is the first book of The Rho Agenda, which its author labels a “UFO conspiracy series.” This is a fitting description, as the book contains UFOs and conspiracies galore. Its author seems uniquely qualified for such an endeavor. Richard Phillips was born in — of all places — Roswell, New Mexico, and grew up immersed in the UFO climate permeating that area. He was an Army Ranger, and later got degrees in physics, doing work at Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. His military and scientific background, as well as his interest in UFOs and science fiction, all come together to form a satisfying thriller about alien technology and the secrets and agendas of those who control it.
As the story kicks off, the President of the United States goes on tv to make a stunning announcement: for the last half century or so, the U.S. government has been studying a crashed alien spacecraft. This study has taken place at Los Alamos under the title “the Rho Project.” The reason for finally coming clean is that this project has provided understanding of several new technologies which the President feels must be shared with the world, given the fundamental benefits they could provide for humanity. The first of these technologies, for example, is working cold fusion.
But wait. All is not sunshine and roses, for there are more sinister forces at work (remember: conspiracy). There are those who know more secrets of the alien craft than the President does, and who have agendas of their own — which, you just get the feeling, don’t involve the welfare of humanity quite so much. When you consider that some of these people are the very ones in control of the Rho Project, and that they can use the alien technology to create super-assassins, well, things start to look a little grim for the prospects of peace and good will.
Ah, but wait again. Astute readers will bear in mind the book’s title; if you were thinking there’s a second alien ship, go to the head of the class. Yes, another craft also crashed back in the 1940’s, and what’s more, the two apparently caused each other’s crashes while in the process of trying to destroy one another. This second ship has remained hidden all this time, until the present, when a trio of high school students accidentally stumble upon the hidden crash site. As they explore the vessel, its own amazing technologies start to make themselves known, and these three characters find their lives transforming, with newly found abilities they can hardly even believe. Through those abilities, these three discover evidence of an interstellar war and the malevolent intrigue at the heart of the Rho Project. And deciding to keep knowledge of the second ship to themselves, the only way to combat the threat is by forming their own three-person conspiracy. They quickly find themselves in over their heads, playing a complex game of hide-and-seek with the NSA, trying to get the truth about Rho out before the authorities close in.
This is a pretty well-constructed story, with good plot structure, pacing, and tension level, as well as some halfway decent characterization. The writing quality is higher than you might expect from a small press offering (Synergy Books), and I think Mr. Phillips could have a future in fiction. His prose is clear and readable, with a sometimes humorous or appealing turn of phrase. The weakest point by far is the dialogue. It often comes across as stilted and unnatural, for two reasons: first, his characters rarely use contractions like real people do; and second, they speak in fuller sentences than is necessary, including phrases a real speaker would drop because they could be assumed from context. But this was by no means annoying enough to detract greatly from my enjoyment of the book. (I tend to auto-edit as I read anyway, providing the contractions myself, for example.) Another small problem is a somewhat inconsistent tone; at times the book comes across in an innocent, almost Young Adult style, while at other times it’s thoroughly adult, even brutally violent. It’s not a major hangup, just something that was noticeable.
The book leaves off at the perfect point for the first of what I presume to be a trilogy, whetting the reader’s appetite without giving away too much. Several subplots are resolved, while leaving the underlying mystery intact for the following books, which should prove interesting.
For those interested, you can visit the author’s website for more background, excerpts, and purchasing information (available in paperback and Kindle for those who are into that).