Top positive review
Decent, but not fantastic, read.
on 2 September 2014
This had me hooked as I love to read how writers explore the subject of our society, an indeed the world as a whole, being shaken and torn apart by a catastrophic event. Be that zombies, aliens, natural phenomena, it's fascinating to read fresh new ideas on this genre.
Earthfall is pretty damn good. I was hooked start to finish. The plot moved at a decent pace, the characters were engaging, though it would have been better for some of the background characters to be more fleshed out as I found myself wondering which of them I should care about.
The arc of Sam is well paced and the implications of the invasion lead to a much wider story, unexplored as yet by myself, so I can only comment on this book, though I know there are others in the series.
I did have some issues, and though it's clear this story is aimed at teenagers who might not grumble at such details, I can't help but find them annoying.
Sam talking to himself was weird. I guess we all talk to ourselves from time to time, but this felt forced somehow, as if the author thought he needed to put snippets of dialogue in to break up the narrative for fear of boring them with long chunks of description. It wasn't necessary as the narrative sped along nicely without them.
Maybe there's a need for clichéd characters because without them certain stories wouldn't work. This said it seems that here those standard types are slotted neatly into place - the young hero, the scientist guy with secrets he only shares when the plot needs him to, the troop of supporting characters with the banter and grim determination against all odds, and so on.
Not saying this is a bad thing as it worked well here, but it felt a little too easy, like everything unfolded as it should without too much effort from the author to make things difficult. Again, this is likely due to the story being aimed at a younger audience, so it's not exactly bad, just not brilliant.
Earth Fall popped up on recommended reading on Amazon due to having read Charlie Higson's The Enemy series. It's probably not entirely fair to compare the two stories, but since they do indeed share similarities (not to mention they have a character called Sam) I was compelled to compare them, from a plot and character standpoint, not writing style.
Side note on style - readers have their favourite authors, Stephen King = exploring or looking at something from a different and unique perspective, just as they have favourite movie directors, Michael Bay = big bangs, JJ Abrams = lens flare. I couldn't find a single quirk or style here by Mark Walden that stood out as different or special. Sure it read well and moved along nicely, but there wasn't much pop or wow factor.
Higson gives his characters an aim and then puts one obstacle after another in their way to hinder them as much as possible. That in itself is believable because characters (as in real life) don't just get what they want. Having said that, too many hurdles can become unrealistic and annoying so there must be a decent balance.
There don't seem to be many barriers in Earthfall. Yes, it's a bad situation, and yes, there's the obvious giant hurdle to get over, but like I said, it's a bit too easy for the good guys to get what they want. I felt somewhat cheated out of any small victory along the way as it felt the struggle to get there wasn't as tough as it could have been.
I like big plots, massive ideas that are drip fed to the reader until they begin to realise the scope of the story is much bigger than they realised. But I'm also a big fan of character driven stories. For me that's the adventure, the journey of the character through the changes. So when plot gears force a character to do things it feels awkward and formulaic.
The instance of Sam being rescued felt inevitable (though I guess it would have been a different story if he hadn't)because of the lead up to it. It bothered me that he was shown how to use guns, something the rest of the characters had been doing for 18 months, and way too quick Sam became an expert and was an important and crucial part of the team.
I wonder if teenagers would accept that more than adult readers because of how they're socially conditioned these days to accept and demand how fast things happen, both in real life and fiction.
Thinking about it, Sam seems to be the only one who progresses through an arc, starting in one place and ending up in another, at least in terms of personal growth. Though I find it weird that he takes everything his stride as if he's playing a disposable video game of his own life.
And there's the issue of conflict. Sure, there's conflict (to a limited degree) between Voidborn invaders and the surviving teenagers. Sadly there's not much more conflict to be had, and that is a shame as conflict is what drives a story. Everyone seems to get along with each other.
One huge thing that bothered me, and I can't not say this, was how the Voidborn control humans, turning them into mindless slaves (though not zombies which was made very clear in a roundabout way) who were then stored in large areas like warehouses etc. That isn't so bad since it makes sense for an invading force like the Voidborn to gather its workforce up, stock up on food and water and keep them together ready for working on whatever that thing in London they were supposed to be building.
Weird how that's not made clear to the reader.
So, that bit's fine. What I didn't like was the clear rip-off of Stephen King's Cell, where the good guys head to Wembley stadium and find all the mindless humans laying on their backs. Whilst it does make sense, when storing human slaves/drones, to keep them somewhere, that scene felt plagiarised to a degree. Sure, all stories are copies of other stores and writing fiction is the method of regurgitating or retelling the same plot in a different way.
But that was just wrong. It could have been done in many different ways. It simply felt copied, without much hard work on the part of the author to try something new. Now, this isn't coming from a Stephen King fan boy at all, and I'm happy to say where old Kingy went wrong in some of his painfully bad books, but it's pointing out that borrowing an idea without putting your own slant on it feels like cheating.
There were parts of the story that felt rushed and left unexplored, Sam's sudden need to track down his family but then forgotten for 18 months, for example. And also the scientist guy (sorry, can't remember his name) picked the perfect moment to give the reader a vast chunk of exposition just so Sam and the reader can be brought up to date in one quick hit.
It felt forced and unnecessary, like when the bad guy in movies tells the hero everything because it's assumed they're going to die, only for the hero to escape with all that convenient knowledge.
However, all those irritating bits and pieces aside, I did indeed enjoy Earthfall. I continued to turn the pages because I wanted to know what happens next. I cared about Sam way more than the other characters. I like the fact that the Voidborn used to be something else. I am intrigued to learn where they came from and how they contacted humans, and how the struggle will continue to play out.
Earthfall isn't a brilliant "must read" book like some reviewers may call it. It's a decent, entertaining, and above all easy, read. And despite my irks I am looking forward to reading the next one.