This is a great story. I don’t know what it is about Shadar’s writing but there’s a… magic about it. The suspension of disbelief is just this side of reality so that after reading for a while, I could close my eyes and almost believe we really were under threat from an extraterrestrial menace (that’s six feet tall and could gain a lucrative five year modeling contract simply by walking in the door).
There are a lot of things to like about this tale, I guess my favourite would have to be its complexity. Unlike in his previous work where everything was told largely from a single viewpoint, with a few distractions into other supporting characters, this time there are multiple narrative threads that run smoothly alongside one another, each with their own protagonists, each of whom have their own personal agendas.
What’s especially brilliant is the way neither side is portrayed as the ‘Bad Guy.’ True the Shaadarians have been waging a war of attrition by ‘culling’ Earth’s violent element, but they’re never portrayed as doing it for anything other than ideological reasons - the pleasure one or two feels is merely a bonus. And it’s not as if Earth doesn’t have its own dark side, political squabbling and disbelief have blinded the military from the real threat, while whole nations have fallen and millions have been killed in nuclear, and latter, guerrilla conflicts that should never have been allowed to happen.
It is into this playground of a war-that-isn’t, of shadows and conspiracies that we enter. Rather innocuously, we do so through a passenger aircraft’s cabin.
After a pleasant introduction and a few snippets of the back-story, the story leapfrogs to a perspective that couldn’t be more removed; a military bunker. Yet wonderfully, despite the apparently stark contrast, the presuppositions created in the first perspective make the transition a gentle one, perfect for easing a reader into the story and preparing them for what's to come.
Which isn’t to say the story doesn’t have some welcome surprises, that the Shaadarian’s most bloodthirsty agent is in a somewhat… delicate condition is just one of them, that the survivors of the Shaadarian attacks are actually more likely to end up worshiping their assailants than fearing them is another.
It's small things like these that make this story good, but it’s the characters that make this great. From playful to homicidal, from passionate elitists to pragmatic compassionates, everything’s here and what’s really amazing is that it works. The concept of aliens killing for peace should be ridiculous, yet when I read this, I not only believe it, I actually find myself sympathising with the Shaadarian’s point of view. Their choices feel real, when Geneva Somers is called upon to kill an innocent for the good of the mission - for, in the eyes of her superiors, the good of the entire planet - I found myself waged in her ethical debate and wishing I were there to help talk sense into her.
That’s a measure of how good this story is, it makes you as much a part of the action as it characters.
Almost sycophantic compliments aside, I do like what you’ve done here, Shadar, and I did find it immensely enjoyable. The last section with Lana and Higgins is probably my favourite in the entire book (which reminds me, there are some lines that I doubt you want dissecting the text at the bottom of page 200), and the attack on Patuxent would be an annihilationist’s dream come true.
There are however some areas that I can’t just accept, even though I can’t think up a way around them. Brantley already forwarded my reservations about the EMP but, unfortunately, not the reason behind them. I don’t have a problem with the concept of a nuclear burst wiping out all computers, my problem is that they wouldn’t stay down for long. While you rightly pointed out in your reply that even small amounts of radio emissions can damage sensitive electronics, unless the Shaadarians carpet bombed the US (and every other manufacturing area on the planet), they could never have inflicted the kind of damage you infer. Yes, all the computers would go down, but there’d be replacements in the form of inactive components waiting in warehouses (whose metallic walls and ceilings would some protection), admittedly some would require repair, but in the unlikely event that there were no untouched elements, there are literally tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people that could jury-rig a replacement, or patch up the part for the limited time it’d be in service. Once these had been put together, the first thing they’d be put to use on would be manufacturing more manufacturing computers to take up the slack and start replacing the lost machines in fraction of the time you've mentioned - you also say that they were only just re-creating the Pentium four, and then a few lines later, that CGI characters have become so realistic they're indistinguishable to the untrained eye.
The second aspect I find hard to swallow is that anyone would take AnnMarie into custody. Regardless of the political pressures, it’d be suicide to make such an attack on the only alien who appears to be on your side, especially the only one who is capable of instructing you in making anti-Shaadarian weapons. By taking AnnMarie, the US instantly alienates - no pun intended - her mother and that’s the last thing they’d want (the exact metaphor I’m thinking of is shooting yourself in the leg and then swimming with sharks). I’m sorry but I just can’t accept that the senators couldn’t be made to understand this.
Next is AnnMarie herself. While I might be able to believe she could accept the Disneyland incident, there’s no way a rational person could think falling sixty feet onto rocks and walking away without a scratch was normal, let alone brush it off as she’s portrayed as doing.
Finally, there’s the way she just appears a week after the incident with a smile on her face and full knowledge of her extraterrestrial heritage/abilities. It's just inconsistent with human behaviour for her to accept the enormity of her change in circumstances, learn her new powers and decide to run away from home in order to join the US military (the fact that her mother would, after coming so close to loosing her only a week before, allow this to happen is equally incredulous.) in the time, and with the ease, you mention.
There are a few other reservations, such as that the Shaadarian’s could believe that by killing a few thousand individuals they’d kill off humanity’s violent streak, or that the governments could continue to believe for so long that such well orchestrated, and financed attacks were the work of a mere terrorist cell, but since they're not entirely beyond the realm of possibility, they’re minor concerns .
In spite of that, I really did enjoy this, Shadar, and look forward to the next installments.