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Posted March 4, 2013
Bobby Lee is a normal 12 year old boy – until his mother dies. As the eldest sibling, he takes the brunt of the chores, as well as helping
his brother and sister through their grief. His father is an undemonstrative man, struggling with his own grief, but does appreciate his
eldest son and rewards him with a much coveted Macbook on Bobby Lee's 12th birthday.
Bobby Lee begins to suffer a series of extreme headaches, and he starts to change. He is stronger, animals avoid him, and his eyes
glow a light blue – until he drinks water and returns to normal. But it keeps happening, and each time he has more and more new
qualities. His schoolwork is suddenly easy, he can levitate, send out pulses of energy and even teleport himself.
He uses his new abilities to transport himself to Greece (via the Pacific Ocean, for some reason) and barely makes it. Once there he
explores the ancient ruins that have fascinated him for years, then travels across the Aegean. He disappears in a flash of light along the
way and reappears in an enormous cavern which the reader knows to be near the centre of the earth, and learns who he really is –
Ashalon, the descendent of a being not of this earth, and the last of his species. He has a mission – to learn the details of his heritage
and to pass his knowledge on the human race to help them in their exploration of space. But that isn't enough for Bobby Lee/Ashalon,
and he gives himself another mandate – to use his abilities to save as many lives as possible from natural disasters.
His activities don't go unnoticed, however. There are many species out there, and Ashalon's ancestor broke their laws by interfering in
Earth's development. Unknowingly, Bobby Lee may have instigated an interstellar war.
'Ashalon' has a touching and bittersweet start with likeable characters and a good portrait of Bobby Lee's family life. I especially liked the
father – he gets some things right and some wrong, his character is well-rounded and somehow very real.
Fans of Superman will love 'Ashalon'. Imaginative and creative, Rob Ussery tells a gripping story that builds suspense as Bobby Lee is
hunted. His action scenes are exciting and well written, and he casts a spell on his readers making the novel hard to put down.
Posted February 15, 2013
First Impressions – cover.
The cover is fairly professional looking and very obviously makes the SF genre clear while equally obviously being a portrait of the main character-so having been made specifically for this book. Thumbs up all around in that respect, even though I can't say I actually like it.
Had I not received the book free for review and therefore felt obliged to finish it, the prelude would have immediately prevented me from buying it. It narrates - in listless, emotionless, corporate language – how an alien of an advanced civilisation arrived on earth, set things up so his distant descendant would have a nice superhero base and helpful AI to come home to, and then killed himself & blew up his spaceship so as to leave no trace. I can't decide whether we're supposed to feel sad about this or not. I did, however, feel vaguely intrigued to find out how that plan would work out for him.
Once the prologue finished, the dull, colourless language ceased for a while and while we met Ashalon and his human family the narrative voice livened up, the prose changed to include more colour, detail and pace, and I was almost convinced that the prologue had been an unfortunate fluke. I settled down to read what was beginning to look like an alternative Superman story – farm boy discovers he's an alien with cool powers and sets out to save the world. I liked the fact that out hero had a family with its own problems, a father who was a decent man struggling to make a living, and siblings with their own lives, and I was interested to see how having these powers would make things different at Bobby Lee's school.
Which is not to say I thought everything was perfect. I'm not sure if the author can get away with “their family is so poor, but Ashalon gets a Macbook and an Ipod for his birthday and goes to a private school”. But I was willing to overlook that in the light of the fact that things had suddenly become enjoyable.
I was even intrigued when some people from a different alien civilisation turned up and began to investigate the sudden appearance of this superpowered individual. That seemed like an unexpected and interesting plot twist.
But then most of the things I had been liking were taken away.
Ashalon's family conveniently died. (Conveniently so they won't get in the way of his self-actualisation.) Thus robbing the story of any kind of human perspective. Simultaneously, the focus of the story shifted onto the politics of the aliens who are coming to kill him. With the shift in focus, the settings became nebulous, the writing descended into 'tell, don't show', with chapters full of info-dumps about the alien culture, which informed us of a lot of world-building and politics but never brought it to life. And the style devolved once more into something more suitable for a presentation on the value of life insurance.
At this point we were told that some of the aliens were oppressing some of the other aliens by (gasp) not letting them have the best jobs! Oh, and some of the aliens in the military caste were oppressing some of the aliens in lower castes by assuming they would want to sleep with them. This kind of oppression, which as a woman I take to be the normal operation of our current society, was somehow presented as so intolerable it justified full scale rebellion, and Ashalon was drafted in by the rebels to overthrow the oppressive Empress and create a democracy.
As you may be able to tell from my tone, by this point I'd stopped caring. I think if the author had chosen to show us the alien world – show us a scene, for example, of a lower caste woman being menaced by higher caste soldiers, how it felt, what they smelled like, where it took place, how she got away, how long it took her to get over it afterwards, how her hands shook and her work suffered because the grease from the instrument panel/the receptors in the computer etc whatever couldn't tell what she was trying to get them to do... Or if he'd shown us a scene of a lower caste person being denied healing factor for their dying spouse – how bright the blood was that bubbled up from her lips, how the higher ups shrank from the uncleanness of it, how he screamed and beat on their door and pleaded, and they smiled as they denied him etc...
If the author had brought the SF scenes to life as he managed to do with the scenes of Bobby Lee and his father, then perhaps I might have cared about these people and their troubles. But he wrote them as if they were a history essay, stripping out any excitement and drama by robbing us of any human contact with any of these people. A classic case of why the writing advice “show, don't tell,” became such a mantra.
Rating – 2 stars. There is definite potential here in the scenes where the writer seems to be writing about the things he knows about. He just needs to make his SF settings and characters as solid and realistic as he does his home farm scenes.
Posted February 3, 2013
No text was provided for this review.