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Literature / Fragment

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Henders Island is not a lost world frozen in time, an island of mutants, or a lab where science has gone mad. This is the Earth as it might have been after evolving separately for half a billion years, an ecosystem that could topple ours like a house of cards.

Fragment is a 2009 s-f novel by Warren Fahy, described by one reviewer as "an eco-thriller with teeth."

A group of scientists on the reality show Sea Life discover a distress signal from a near uncharted island in the South Pacific. Called Henders Island, the island itself is poorly known, and no one has ever reported exploring the interior of the island. The crew land on the island not only with the hope of rescuing whoever sent the signal, but also possibly discovering new species of plants and animals (and in one case, pumping ratings back into the failing show).

They soon find out why no one has ever explored Henders Island.

Turns out the island is a remnant of an ancient supercontinent from the Precambrian era, where everything has been evolving separately for 570 million years and the inherent savagery of life has been turned up to eleven; an orgy of violence where the food chain is thrown out the window and everything eats everything - the dominant lifeform being a land-going species of mantis shrimp capable of single-hand(claw?)edly shredding and devouring tanks.

Naturally, the military gets involved, and the U.S. attempt to study the island, bringing in not only the only two survivors of the Sea Life expedition to the island, but two scientists from the mainland. One is a rather nice guy with the token unusual theory which gets proven over the course of the book, while the other is a popular doom-saying scientist who does things more for the money than For Science!. Eventually, the island's fauna is determined to be too dangerous, and the government nukes the place. But not before the protagonists discover sentient life on the island, and have to get it off the island and into safety before the above money-hungry scientist has them killed to render his theories unfalsifiable.

Has a sequel called Pandemonium, which deals with another isolated hostile ecosystem, this time in an enormous cave in Russia, as well as the survival of organisms from Henders Island in the underground city nearby. A third book is planned.

This series provides examples of:

  • Accidental Hero: With surviving fauna from Henders Island overrunning a sealed off city that inevitably will be breached, spilling them out into the world; Pandemonium's ecosystem is ultimately used to end the threat of Henders island's organisms once and for all by having the fauna battle it out while spilling the Pandemonium sea into the city. Between rival species and the saltwater, the Henders Island carnivores are finally wiped out.
  • Alien Kudzu: Henders clover is a vaguely lichen-like organism that can adapt its biochemistry pretty much instantly to absorb and process just about any material. It's everywhere, it grows like crazy, it destroys hardened buildings by literally eating them layer by layer, and wherever it is, a whole host of even nastier species comes with it because the clover forms the basis of the island's entire food chain.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Er... mantis shrimp. However, sometimes the bigger fish is a smaller fish, as can be seen when a terrestrial mantis shrimp the size of a grizzly is attacked and severely wounded by three smaller badger-sized animals. No, really.
  • Apocalypse How: It's made clear early on that if any living thing made it off Henders Island, it would be capable of eating everything else on the planet within twenty years. In an odd case, the hendropods have maintained their civilization's records long enough to have recorded sixteen similar events, starting with the Gosses Bluff impactor, 142,221,201 years ago. Yeah. They remember all the times Earth got Roshambo'd right down to the year.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Henders Island uses the local equivalent of woodpeckers, Hollywood Acid-spewing fern, flying worms with drills at one end, and sheer brute force to demolish armored structures and vehicles in record time. The military has to clear an entire area of all life just to be able to set up a base that doesn't get torn to pieces within two or three days at most.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • The entire premise of the Henders' species breeding and eating each other fast enough for their ecosystem tp remain stable runs afoul of trophic levels, meaning each organism only processes so many nutrients of their food, thus resulting in diminishing returns that would make their ecosystem unsustainable.
    • The entire premise of the Henders' species being hyper-vulnerable to salt water due to having evolved from ancient species before the oceans salinified. Every species on Earth had ancestors from that time, so the Henders' species had just as much time to adapt as everything else.
  • Artistic License – Paleontology:
    • Henders Island is populated by a lot of Ediacaran Fauna, in addition to various arthropods and Cambrian fauna. The problem? All of the weird Ediacaran fauna died out before the big Cambrian diversification. Not to mention the fact that the book suggests that all arthropods all the way down through mantis shrimp evolved there (which means that the death-by-saltwater Henders Island animals would have had to have left the island over a dozen times!)
    • Although Ediacaran fauna surviving past their "official" extinction is certainly plausible. It's happened multiple times in real life...
    • It's possible that the idea of mantis shrimp (but probably not all arthropods) having evolved from the Henders organisms is a Shout-Out to the first ever "alternate evolution" Mockumentary, The Snouters. In that book, the author traces the origins of the perfectly-ordinary taxon of flatworms to its mythical Rhinogrades as a joke.
  • Being Watched: Yeah, you really have to wonder how observant these people are when a ten-foot mantis shrimp sits outside their door and stalks them. Oh, and Hender was watching them the entire time. Heck, he called them.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Being seconds away from ending between a giant spiger's jaws, one character in Fragment prefers self-inflicted death by gravity over a fate like this.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: In the first book, there the Hender organisms, which technically count due to being arthropods (although looking very little like arthropods), with the mega-mantis getting special mention.
    • The sequel goes full though, there are giant gammarids, colonial centipede chains, and sea spiders.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Frequent references are made to how Henders Island fauna is so strange and so alien, except that it's all Earth-based.
    • For example, the wheel-like "ants" are actually thousands of individuals in themselves, carrying several generations of offspring in a spiral canal on their underside. If they trip, the offspring eat them.
    • Most of the larger species (with "larger" starting at cat-sized) have two brains, the second one being located at the middle of their back where it serves as a semi-autonomous surveillance system that manages the additional eyes there.
    • Every single species on Henders Island is born pregnant. Babies often already mate while still in the womb, and if they don't, they do so almost immediately after birth and then start popping out more offspring indefinitely until they're killed. They're also born completely developed and ready to partake in the island's endless slaughter from the get-go.
    • Gets even weirder in Pandemonium, in which it turns out that many Henders organisms that'd seemed like separate species in the first novel are actually different castes or life-cycle stages of other species. Those disk-ants? They're related to the trees.
  • Bizarre Alien Locomotion: The white disc-ants are wheel-shaped, and can roll on their edges. Larger species like Henders rats or spigers have prehensile tails that they can fold under their bodies to use like a powerful spring system that enables them to perform a Deadly Lunge over considerable distances.
  • Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Henders "rats" aren't. Not even close. Meanwhile Henders "ants" are more like tires than ants. There's also a plantlike organism that changes the pigments it uses to photosynthesize depending on the level of light. It is named "clover." The book at least has the decency to include multiple arguments between scientists about how to name all the stuff on the island, mainly because most of it simply doesn't have a proper equivalent in known nature, so it's usually named after whatever comes closest in terms of biological niche.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: At the end of Pandemonium the cave's lake spills into the underground city, which has become infested with Henders organisms, and the two deadly ecosystems battle it out. Pandemonium having a huge advantage - being immune to saltwater, helps swing the odds in their favor.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Given the countless horrific ways the Henders species continuously kill each other, almost every human that dies on the island suffers one of these. Getting bitten in half by a giant spider-tiger chimera is actually one of the most merciful ways to go out there.
  • Deadly Disc: The hendropods defend themselves by launching these at attackers, with a single good hit being enough to bisect a fully-grown spiger at the waist. It's never mentioned where they get the ammo from, but they seem to have a generous supply of them ready at all times.
  • Death World: Er, island. In any case, this could be the epitome of said trope, as your total remaining life expectancy can be measured in minutes while venturing into the island.
    • To put it into perspective, if even one mite-sized animal got off the island, the current situation - Henders life confined to the island and modern life spanning the globe - would reverse itself within twenty years, with the few non-Henders organisms cowering on islands hoping no Henders lifeforms would ever find them.
    • The sequel brings us Pandemonium, a death cave just as deadly as Henders Island, partly because none of its inhabitants are vulnerable to saltwater.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Thatcher. Though the other characters ignore him less because they think he's innocuous and more because he's annoying. The threat from him comes from just how far he is willing to go to preserve his book deals.
  • Diverging Evolutionary Phases: The sequel, Pandemonium, reveals that many of Hender's Island's organisms are actually different forms of the same species, such as the disk-ants being capable of metamorphosing into several varieties of tree-like planimals or the near-microscopic "nano-ants" that crawl over the skin of larger animals as symbionts, and the Hender's rat, which can be induced to transform into the gargantuan spiger by other rats. This, along with the fact they're almost all Explosive Breeders, means that just one Hender's Island organism is needed to turn new land into a self-sustaining ecosystem.
  • The Evils of Free Will: Or, rather, the evils of sentience. Thatcher Redmond's self-named principle states that, when sentient life evolves, it inevitably destroys itself and the environment around it. This question is prevalent throughout the book, particularly when the hendropods are concerned. However, by the end, the principle is revealed to be false. Sentience does not automatically make a being evil. The hendropods are the best example of this. What sentience does do to a being is give it a concept of good and evil... and the ability to choose between the two. The hendropods, Binswanger and the majority of the characters in the book have chosen good. Thatcher chose evil.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Ranging from Tyrannosaurus-sized terrestrial mantis shrimp up to and including the plants. Especially the plants. They drink your blood.
  • Eye Scream: A lot of eyes suffer unpleasant fates over the course of the story. Some Henders species like drill-worms specifically target their victim's eyes first.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Henders rats and spigers have a second set of eyes at the middle of their backs that allows them to literally watch their backs at all times. Disc-ants have stereoscopical eyes all around their circumference.
  • Foil: Thatcher Redmond and Geoffrey Binswanger. The former is an older, isolated scientist only concerned with being proven right and the money that comes with it. The younger is a handsome, charismatic scientist who enjoys surrounding himself with equals, having his theories challenged, and is more concerned with discovery itself than the accolades.
  • Flying Seafood Special: The sequel has these.
    • Space Whale: Well, kind of. They're not whales exactly, but whale-like and while they don't live in space, they can fly.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Skipping to the illustrated appendix at the end of Fragment reveals that Nell and Geoffrey have become Happily Married sometime after the book's events. Ditto if one reads Pandemonium before Fragment.
  • Forgotten Fallen Friend: Nell's close friendship with her mentor Dr. Cato is mentioned repeatedly, but when he pulls a Senseless Sacrifice near the climax of Fragment, she doesn't even notice that he's missing. Nor do the others of their group, and the rest of the book treats the character as if he never existed.
  • Gentle Giant: Hender and the Hendropods. They could very clearly wipe out the humans, showing skills at dealing death that easily make them the equal of the deadliest predators on the island, but they're actually kind, sensitive, intelligent creatures who do their best to protect any innocents on the island.
  • Giving Them the Strip: In book 2, Nell's desperate run through a tunnel infested with ghost octopuses forces her to shed her upper clothing to get one of the clinging predators off her back. Downplayed in that, although the rescue team are surprised that she's topless when they encounter her, nobody comments aloud about it and no Fanservice is even implied.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: How do we know for sure that Hender is a friend? Copepod LOVES him.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: The hendropods see things differently than humans, both in their thoughts and literally (they have a much wider colour spectrum than humans).
    "[Hender] couldn't understand what humans meant by "black-and-white" movies. Hender saw lots of colors in them."
  • The Hunter Becomes the Hunted: A pack of badger mantis-shrimps chases a group of Henders rats, but when one of the badgers trip, the rats turn around and devour it, followed by swarms of wasps and ants; then everything is eaten by a dog-sized animal that springs from the canopy, bringing this trope up to eleven.
    • Happens on an Ecosystem Vs. Ecosystem level in the second book, when the Henders organisms discover that the Pandemonium organisms are as willing to devour them as vice versa.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Both Fragment (Copepod the bull terrier) and its sequel (Ivan the Samoyed) have a dog in it, and both dogs survive to the end. Averted with Kuzu, who as Pandemonium's Big Bad is killed despite being pregnant at the time.
  • Just Plane Wrong: At one point in Henders cave a character suggests that debris from Amelia Earhart's plane may have washed up on the island, examining a life preserver labeled "Electra" and stating that was the name of Amelia's plane. In truth, the aircraft model was a Lockheed Electra 10E, and Earhart's was never given a name beyond the registration number NR16020.
  • Karma Houdini: Cynthea Leeds, despite knowingly risking (and costing) several innocent lives for the sake of producing her reality show in Henders Island, gets no comeuppance whatsoever and even makes a cameo at the end of the sequel. Granted, she ends up instrumental in saving the survivors and the Hendropods from being wiped out by the Navy, so she's arguably redeemed herself.
  • Kill It with Water: The key plot element; as Henders Island split off from the pre-Cambrian supercontinent before the salinity of the Earth's oceans spiked 570 million years ago, any contact with salt water is tantamount to instant death for its lifeforms, confining them to a 2-mile-wide green bowl of Hell.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: After Thatcher escapes, he accidentally releases anesthetized specimens and is eaten horribly.
  • Last of His Kind: At the time of the novels, each of the five hendros is the sole survivor of its tribe and has been for thousands of years. Averted at the end of Pandemonium, when Hender is shown to have produced an offspring.
  • Living Gasbag: Some of Pandemonium's highly-evolved mollusks can fly in this way.
  • Long-Lived: Every life form native to Henders Island is biologically immortal because they get killed off too soon for aging to be required to prevent inbreeding.Except the Hendropods.
  • Lost World: The entire premise of the book and its sequel.
  • Misidentified Weapons: A Humvee driver in the latter half of the book is described as clutching "an M1 assault rifle." The M1 Garand was a semi-automatic rifle dating from WWII, and though a modernized version called the M14 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle) exists, as a marksman rifle it would be both a strange and poor choice for a vehicle operator to carry in such an enclosed space.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Henders creatures are apparently all descendents of prehistoric crustaceans, but they also sport fur, endoskeletons and other biological traits that crustaceans don't normally have.
  • Monstrous Cannibalism: Standard practice for everything on Henders Island and several Pandemonium species, so much so that the hendros' standard means of evading packs of predators is to kill or seriously wound the largest one so the rest of its pack will break off pursuit to devour it en masse.
  • Nerds Are Sexy: Dr. Binswanger falls pretty firmly into this trope, having a legion of adoring fangirls turning out to hear him discuss evolutionary theory.
  • Nuke 'em: Unsurprisingly, the US military's first, last and only plan to deal with Henders Island and everything on it is to drop a megaton nuke on it. They go through with it in the end. Given the horrific threat the wildlife on this island poses to the entire rest of Earth's biosphere, it might just be one of the rare cases where it's actually justified.
  • Older and Wiser:Both subverted and played straight by the Hendropods. Since they've spent centuries or more on the island, they're very knowledgeable about it, but totally clueless about everything off it.
  • Old Master:The Hendropods. Each of them has lasted centuries on a miniature Deathworld, and don't get weaker as they age. An example is near the end of the book, where they lock themselves in with a group of Henders Rats, and casually pulp them.
  • Precision F-Strike: From the President of the United States, no less! But entirely justified, under the circumstances...
  • Puppeteer Parasite: The ghost octopus is a literal "puppeteer", severing the spinal cord of the victim it's dropped down onto and then controlling their individual limbs to "drive" their prey around.
  • Really 70,000 Years Old: The hendropods are really really old (their civilization dates back to at least the Late Jurassic), but you would never be able to tell because they don't really age.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Near the climax of Fragment, Dr. Cato leaves the relative safety of his vehicle to distract a horde of Henders creatures that are assaulting Nell and some others. It works long enough to get him killed, only for someone to cry out in horror and immediately draw the creatures' attention back to them.
  • Speculative Biology: Fahy did his research to create an ecosystem based on Ediacaran and Cambrian fauna, albeit one rooted in Rule of Scary.
  • Sudden Sequel Death Syndrome: In Pandemonium, both Otto Inman and Andy Beasley are killed off rather unceremoniously via gunshot midway through the book.
  • Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome: In Pandemonium, Kuzu turns out to be the book's main villain.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Henders creatures are deathly allergic to... salt water. Hilariously, this results in the military arming their ground troops with squirt guns that prove more effective than regular boomsticks.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The early subplot involving Nell's nightmares about her 'monster' and her mother's death, sort of vanished and was never mentioned again. Then again, maybe she repressed those memories to focus on the other monsters on the island.
  • The Worf Effect: Fragment uses a mongoose, one of the hardiest invasive species in the world, to showcase just how ludicrously dangerous Henders Island is. The one the scientists let loose with a camera on its back barely survives for two minutes before meeting a gruesome end at the claws of the local equivalent of a rat.