Aug 01 2013
(Paul’s note: I didn’t assign Joy to do this. Rather, she volunteered to review my new book, and I thank her for doing so. Really cool to see.)
Take one part District 9, set against the post-apocalyptic backdrop of Book of Eli, mix in a bit of Star Trek, jam it all into Mass Effect 3 and you have Paul Tassi’s first novel The Last Exodus. Now take all of that, add some Starship Troopers, set it on Pandora, and you have The Exiled Earthborn.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that the last science fiction novel I read was Hitchhiker’s Guide, and though neither book contained depressed androids, there was something oddly familiar and comforting about watching the last two “Earthlings” traverse the galaxy with a new alien companion. I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality and storyline in the first two installments of this series. In a book that reads like a movie or video game (because, duh, the author is all about movies and video games), it was refreshing to experience a degree of vulnerable humanity intact, alongside almost an excess of violent inter-species battles and cross-galaxy journeys. Spoilers ahead, but I’ll try to keep the element of suspense for those who haven’t hopped over to Amazon to purchase BOTH for a very reasonable $4.00 yet – what are you waiting for, again?
For those who have yet to delve into the Exodus Trilogy, some background: Earth has been destroyed following an invasion by otherworldly creatures known as Xalans, which depleted most of Earth’s natural resources to fuel their own intergalactic war. Former-alcoholic Lucas and fiercely tenacious Asha, previous competitors for survival on their dying planet, are rescued by a sympathetic Xalan scientist called Alpha (borrowing from the Greek alphabet for translation’s sake). This trio of unlikely warriors navigates a barren wasteland full of cannibals and dying Xalans, eventually piecing together the Ark, one of the last surviving, functional alien spacecrafts. They traverse cross-globe collecting supplies, picking up weapons and a singular survivor of a Swedish cannibal camp, a baby boy they appropriately name Noah. Race into space, multiple battles and an ominous Xalan Shadow named Omicron, and finally captured (well, ‘rescued’) by Sorans, a human-like species and Xala’s mortal enemies. Oh, and along the way Lucas and Asha get freaky and end up pregnant. All caught up? Good.
And this is what I kept imagining as Alpha. But, like, friendlier and less roach-y.
Asha and Lucas are introduced to the elite and ruling class of Elyria, the capital of the 5x Earth-sized planet Sora. One thing I’ve learned – don’t attend any extravagant events in Elyria if you want to stay in one piece. The second book begins with the same tempo as the first, but at a more relaxed pace since our protagonists are not scrambling for survival. One thing Paul is good at is knocking the audience on its ass unexpectedly; like a newly introduced, potentially significant character being engulfed in a fireball at a fancy party. The occasional flashback or memory isn’t as interruptive as I found in other books from the same genre, and help give deeper insight to protagonist (and occasional antagonist) multi-dimensional personalities.
Elyria, complete with the Stream feeds. (District 14 by Adam Kuczek)
Character development is natural and gradual, and while some seem to possess super-human abilities, keep in mind they are working with far superior alien technology, such as insta-healing pressurized suits and medical gels that seal gaping wounds instantaneously. As far as the mental and emotional tenacity of the survivors is concerned, it’s interesting to note their desire for the simple life even as they are taxed with their knowledge and haunted by the actions of their past. It’s an interesting dynamic – when war has been waged for so long across so many generations, the weak have been largely weeded out, or the remaining beings genetically engineered (to the tune of trillions of marks) to be superior and flawless. One who wasn’t bred that way is Asha – I appreciated a strong female character who wasn’t without her faults, and even her softer side didn’t have her baking cookies in the kitchen; she’s a badass who defends what she loves and doesn’t take anyone’s – Soran, human or Xalan – crap.
Fairly accurate representation of Asha.
Tassi does a great job of describing the surroundings without going into overkill on the detail a la R.R. Martin. I could picture the futuristic city of Elyria and the red cliffs of Rhylos, the jungles of Ak-tai and the five-mooned sky of Sora without difficulty. I could have used a bit more physical description of the characters, but it was left open enough, I’m assuming, to allow the reader to fill in the gaps. I would be totally onboard to play Sakala, a Soran game which I can only describe as Tron-like Quidditch. This book certainly has more settings, as the last mostly took place aboard the Ark spaceship and at the occasional refueling station. I’m eager to see what other worlds are explored in the final chapter, as we reach the Xalan homeworld towards the very end, and only briefly.
Xala with transport. (Sky Planet by Ioan Dumitrescu jonone)
I enjoyed the parallel creationism stories, and other cross-universe similarities that humans supposedly shared with Sorans. I’m not sure names such as “Reyes” and “Kovaks” are quite alien enough for the non-humans of Sora, and I’m hoping there’s a deeper correlation here that will be explored in the third installment. The Pandora-esque elements are evident in the native peoples of the Tut-shai and the Oni, tattooed warriors awaiting saviors from the sky to fall and deliver them (again with the parallels). What I appreciated was that Lucas, the main protagonist, didn’t try to champion the people to unite like a certain Jake Sully – although he is often the center of attention, he is far from being a leader, which makes his presence welcome rather than annoying and gives a fresh perspective to the missions at hand.
Alone in the Great Jungle of Ak’tai, complete with Lo-bai. (Forerunner Jungle by Sparth)
Some of the issues I had were with formatting and typos, though I’m not positive it wasn’t the Kindle format causing some of the odd breaks and spacing (or my own overdeveloped attention to detail). Because I was wrapped up in the narrative, it was certainly not enough to distract from the story overall. Some minor unexplained details, such as how alien technology developed the ability to clone and reproduce offspring in tanks for the duration of the baby’s development. I found myself wondering if anything happened to Asha after her fetus was taken to gestate in a pod? It’s kind of glossed over, so I assume while she and Lucas were being held in secret in Elyria, any medical side-effects she experienced were handled with good-old Soran technology. I also doubted that a Shadow creature such as Omicron would take the time to keep a detailed personal diary, filling in some of the gaps in the backstory regarding this books main villain, the Desecrator, but hey, maybe Xalans are squishy on the inside despite their armored exterior.
The Spear. (Ship of the Sky by YongSub Noh)
I love nearing the end of a good book and resisting the urge to skip ahead, and I was rewarded for my patience. The ending was not one I expected, but not one that I’ll spoil here. It has more suspense than its predecessor, and none of the relief knowing everyone has at least come through alive. There are a few different potential paths to diverge from at the end, and I’m eager to see which will be chosen. Paul, I know you have a wedding coming up and all, but write, dammit, write like the wind!
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