Book Review: The Return by Joseph Helmreich

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

the-returnThe Return by Joseph Helmreich

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (March 14, 2017)

Length: 256 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Based on its topics, The Return is what I would describe as hard science fiction—lots of heavy emphasis on technical details, especially surrounding the fields of astronomy and quantum physics. The result is a lot of complex and advanced scientific theory going over my head and plenty more technobabble I’m sure I didn’t quite grasp. So why did I enjoy this book much? Well, for one thing it was thoroughly addicting. Combining an altogether engaging sci-fi premise with the fast-paced intensity of a breathless thriller, Joseph Helmreich’s clever debut is a wild and unexpected journey worth taking.

The day humanity found out that it was not alone in the universe began just like any other, with the exception of a few pockets in the scientific community all abuzz with the anticipation for that night’s lunar eclipse coinciding with the winter solstice. It is an occasion rare enough that a news television station has arranged a live broadcast on site in the Bernasconi Hills of Southern California with expert physicist-turned-celebrity scientist Dr. Andrew Leland to cover the event. This is why, when a mysterious spacecraft suddenly swoops down upon the TV crew after the eclipse, Dr. Leland’s subsequent abduction by aliens was captured entirely on film and televised live on air for all to see.  The footage was so clear that not even the fiercest skeptics could deny the evidence of what happened that day. The next six years saw drastic changes in almost all facets of life, ranging from mass panic to renewed dedication to studying the space sciences, people either reembracing or abandoning their faith, lots of discussion and speculation about what might have happened to Leland and where he might be now.

At least the last question was answered one day when the world received another shock—in the middle of the South American desert, a bedraggled wanderer was picked up by authorities and identified as none other than Dr. Andrew Leland. But instead of enlightening everyone with the details of what he saw and experienced in the last six years, Leland claims that he remembers nothing. In fact, he denies having been abducted at all. Soon after, he becomes a recluse, retreating completely from the public eye. For some people though, that simply would not do. Shawn Ferris is a young physics grad student who has been obsessed with the life of Andrew Leland ever since he watched the famous video of the abduction as a young boy. He wants answers and is determined to get them by tracking his hero down. In doing so, however, what Shawn did not expect to find are others hunting Leland too, except their intentions are not so nice.

To my utter astonishment, the publisher description actually contains a lot more detail and potential spoilers for its own story—though I suppose with the sheer number twists and turns in this book, they probably figured revealing a couple of them wouldn’t hurt. If you truly want to be surprised though, I would suggest avoiding the blurb if you haven’t read it already, and also not to seek out anything more about the plot. Trust me, it’ll make finding out what happens so much better…

While in essence The Return is a science fiction novel, its style, format and pacing is more in keeping with a suspense-thriller by employing devices like a third-person omniscient point of view, lots of POV jumps and incidental characters, cliffhangers at the end of chapters, etc. If these are the kinds of stories you like, then this book will work very well for you. It is also in large part a mystery, keeping readers guessing in anticipation at what the big picture is. At first, the story is told in two disparate threads, one following Shawn Ferris in America and the second taking place in Spain, with no hints as to how they are related. But as events gradually unfold in each storyline, the connections start to form. From the very start, I was impressed with Helmreich’s sleek and polished writing style and the clever way he structured the plot. And despite the amount of scientific jargon, reading this never felt like a chore thanks to the writing being very readable and the punchy pace keeping me from putting the book down.

Perhaps the only part I felt dubious about was the ending, which wrapped up much too quickly and felt just a little too convenient, considering the elaborate development that went into the ramp-up to this point. But even though the ending wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been, I wouldn’t say I was disappointed—not when many of the events in the final parts of this book are just as shocking and unexpected as those in the first half, and I confess I was even left feeling gut-punched by several of those surprising twists.

This is a genre I often struggle with, but The Return succeed in drawing me in with its smart and intriguing premise. While it is not completely without its flaws, for a debut effort it is nonetheless impressive, featuring a story that often kept me perched on the edge of my seat. Joseph Helmreich’s writing is also solid and very “cinematic” in its quality—sharply vivid and immediate, delivering maximum thrills and entertainment. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it for readers who enjoy a kick of an adrenaline rush with their sci-fi.


Mogsy 2

17 Comments on “Book Review: The Return by Joseph Helmreich”

  1. I really haven’t heard anything about this book until now, but I love alien abduction scenarios so I’d like to give this a shot. Plus I love that it’s technical AND readable at the same time:-D


  2. You totally convinced me! 🙂
    The mix of thriller and science fiction can be a tricky one, sometimes, and if this author managed it so well as to keep you interested and even on the edge of your seat, as you wrote, it means that he’s been doing a good job.
    Thanks for sharing!


  3. Killer hook! I have to know what happened to Dr. Leland!! lol If I can get it on audio, I’d really like to try this *crosses fingers* Thanks for the review 🙂


  4. Okay, so I won’t check out the blurb then 😀 Good call. I do like the sound of this, especially the suspense thriller elements so it will go onto the list. – what was that, a great disturbance in the force, like a million books suddenly crashing onto the floor! #mounttbr
    Lynn 😀


  5. It’s been a really long time since I read any hard/technical sci-fi (because the scientific details intimidate me a bit) but combining it with the pace of a thriller sounds like the perfect solution! Even though I can never guess who the culprit is, I also enjoy a good mystery. 🙂


  6. Pingback: Mogsy’s Bookshelf Roundup: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  7. Pingback: Best of 2017: Notable Debuts | The BiblioSanctum

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