A fun, frenetic tour de force, Brendan Smiley’s bravura alien-invasion novel immediately snags readers with politically-charged hooks.
Grocery shopping “in the Western States of Separated America,” 26-year-old Breya Morrow is tailed by “ad/vend drones—twelve inch, wafer-thin screens playing video advertisements and targeting shoppers according to what they were pursuing – coffee, soup, pancake mix, etc.” It’s October 2039, and after five years inside the Ghost Seers, a cult of programmers led by wealthy tech visionary Anders Bath, Breya has just escaped the cult’s isolated Misty Gate compound, ending a long-term relationship with the manipulative Anders.
Heading into the Colorado wilderness, she witnesses several UFOs crash nearby; one unleashes an alien monster that attacks her. Black Eye—a 12-foot, gray-skinned humanoid—emerges from another UFO, slays the monster, then disappears. Later, Breya encounters Adrick—a human raised off-world—along with Spurs, giant leech-like parasites that infect them both. He takes her hostage, knowing they must quickly remove the ultimately lethal Spurs.
Breya learns Adrick and Black Eye are allies, sworn enemies of Sand, a cosmic war criminal leading an invasion of Earth. After removing the Spurs, Adrick and Black Eye must find a way to signal the Searchers, intergalactic good guys who’ll get them off-world. Pregnant with Anders’ child, passive Breya morphs into a gun-happy heroine aided by an ad/vend drone named Zephyr. All four navigate a nightmarish Colorado divided by a nationwide second civil war.
Part Guardians of the Galaxy bromance, part Linda Hamilton/Terminator girl-boss playbook, Smiley’s debut features whiplash-fast pacing with gun battles between humans and extraterrestrials, and urban streets overrun with lethal alien creatures. Smiley also delivers quirky well-rendered characters: Black Eye invigorated by “a little bit of the bedlam,” straight-laced Adrick observing, “You’re in it for the chaos. Sodding nutter, you are.” Vivid dialogue distinguishes characters, with Breya wisecracking in contemporary language and Adrick cursing 18th century-style: “A vexing pox on you! Fool!”
Altogether, it adds up to a joyride of a read.
Highly recommended for fans of John Scalzi.
Also available as an ebook.