Friday, January 7, 2011
A blurb about shapeshifting aliens and flying motorcycles made Jon S. Lewis’s Invasion sound like a fun read. I requested this book from Thomas Nelson as part of their BookSneeze program, but soon I was struggling to finish it. YA speculative fiction is popular these days, but a book needs good worldbuilding, realistic characters and well-written prose to stand out from the crowd.
The story begins when Colt McAlister’s father drops him off for a day at a top-secret military training school – which has a mildly Ender’s Game feel – and he competes against other cadets while learning about an organization that protects Earth from aggressive extraterrestials. This part was enjoyable, but there was a moment during the combat practice that didn’t ring true, when Colt manages to defeat a far more practised opponent without even realizing what he’s doing.
I thought this anomaly would be explained later. Sadly, it’s par for the course. Throughout the story, Colt and his friends go up enemies of every kind and in every case, they escape or win. Usually very easily, because the robots have the worst aim ever, but with a little more difficulty in Colt’s mano a alieno showdown with the chief villain at the end. There was no suspense.
Part of the problem was that they faced down so many different assassins, robots, aliens and mind-controlled humans that I lost count. In Terminator 2, there was only one evil Terminator. Only one was necessary. Invasion, on the other hand, opts for quantity over quality, and the story suffers as a result. The aliens, for instance, are furred or scaled cliches who talk and behave exactly like humans, with the evil ones being six-armed lizard men. As for the human puppets, when they’re being mind-controlled, their eyes glow red.
The book may have been aiming for a pulp-SF feel – hence the jet packs, lizard men and a claim that the Nazis used technological mind control. This sadly never got recorded in the history books, but is the basis for a set of comic books which everyone in the story constantly refers to. Sixteen-year-old surfer/guitarist Colt – who is no Alex Rider, let alone Ender Wiggin – also gets the best scores in the military program’s history and is considered for the position of its director.
It was impossible to take this as serious fiction, but it might still have succeeded as campy space opera if not for the style.
Colt looked at Koenig’s bodyguard, then at Danielle. He hit the ignition switch on his jet pack, and it roared to life. He leapt. His shoulder rammed into Rainer’s midsection.
That’s a representative sample. Action scenes are reminiscent of a chess game – first one player moves a piece, then the other responds by moving another piece. During it all, the other pieces stand and patiently wait their turn. The descriptions are flat and minimal, though I did smile at the line where Colt’s grandfather mentions his friends Dale and Hank. Finally, on page 95 “two more Trident assassins repelled down through the debris”. I can’t tell whether there were more mistakes in the second half of the book, because I was skimming at that point.
This book may have a few interesting concepts – and the cover is great – but I can't recommend it.