When the 1% and the 99% clash, the fate of the human race hangs on the actions of two teens from very different backgrounds in this thrilling adventure that School Library Journal calls “a strong choice for YA sci-fi shelves.”
In the Upperworld, the privileged 1% are getting ready to abandon a devastated planet Earth. And Cam can’t wait to leave. After sleeping through a 1,000-year journey, he and his friends will have a pristine new planet to colonize. And no more worries about the Lowerworld and its 99% of rejects.
Then Cam sees a banned video feed of protesters in the Lowerworld who also want a chance at a new life. And he sees a girl with golden eyes who seems to be gazing directly at him. A girl he has to find. Sofie.
When Cam finds Sofie, she opens his eyes to the unfairness of their world, and Cam joins her cause for Lowerworld rights. He also falls hard for Sofie. But Sofie has her own battles to fight, and when it’s time to board the spaceships, Cam is alone.
Waking up 1,000 years in the future, Cam discovers that they are far off-course, trapped on an unknown and hostile planet. Who has sabotaged their ship? And does it have anything to do with Sofie, and the choices—and the enemies—he made in the past?
About the Author
Joshua David Bellin has been writing books since the age of eight (though his first few were admittedly very, very short). He is the author of Freefall, Survival Colony 9, and Scavenger of Souls. When he’s not writing, he spends his time drawing, catching amphibians, and watching monster movies with his kids. A Pittsburgh native, Josh has taught college English, published three nonfiction books (one about monsters!), and taken part in the movement to protect the environment. You can find him online at JoshuaDavidBellin.com.
Read an Excerpt
I wake with her name on my lips.
And the feeling that something’s gone terribly wrong.
But I don’t know what. My mind’s cloudy, my thoughts scattered and unreal. My throat burns. My eyes blink open, but total darkness wraps me. Darkness and dizziness. Closing my eyes doesn’t help with the sensation that everything’s spinning. My heart races, and the first thought that makes sense is that I must have been having a nightmare. But I can’t remember it, not one detail. I can’t even remember going to sleep.
I try to think. The effort doubles my nausea, and I dry heave into the dark. Why can’t I see anything? What’s happened to me? Where am I?
When am I?
The fog rolls back slowly, and it starts to make sense.
I’m in my pod. The place where I was put into deepsleep and then into storage aboard the Upperworld starship, the Executor. Me, and close to a million others. Each of us in our own pod, sleeping through the endless vacancies of space until our ship was pulled by its target star’s gravitational field to its destination, the Earth-analog planet Tau Ceti e. If I’m awake, that must mean we’re here.
But there’s still something wrong. My pounding heart is a sure sign the pod’s given me an adrenaline injection. No gradual slide from slumber to wakefulness, the way it worked back on Earth when they put us into a week of deepsleep to test our response to total physiological hibernation. I’ve been wrenched awake, and that can mean only one thing.
The mission’s failed. The pods have ejected. And I could be a million light-years from where I’m supposed to be.
Golden lights dance around me as the pod’s systems spring to life. The front panel displays my personal information, reminding me, in case of a rocky awakening, who I am:
PASSENGER: NEWELL, C.
CLASSIFICATION AT DEPARTURE: 17 EY
HT: 1.75 m
WT: 68.49 kg
CORPONATION OF ORIGIN: Can-Do Amortization
GENETIC SCREEN: within designated parameters
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: within designated parameters
It gets dizzying reading all the data, but I turn my attention to the display that shows my vitals: heart, breathing, muscle tone, bone density. According to the numbers, I’ve lost very little in however long I’ve been in deepsleep, which means the pod’s nanotechnology has done its job, continuously monitoring calcium, muscle fiber, organ systems. My vision’s blurry, like looking through goggles, but I can see enough to scan the instrument panel, passing over the silver-and-black JIPOC logo, seeking the time log.
When I find it, I’m both relieved and shocked.
The exact year we were meant to arrive. Precisely a thousand Earth-years after we left. The math of relativity was always slippery to me, so I won’t try to figure out how long that was for my sleeping body. But so far as Earth is concerned, I’ve survived a voyage that lasted more than twelve human life spans. And that means that if the readout’s accurate, the pods ejected at the end of the mission, when we’d reached our target.
I’m here. I’m where I’m meant to be. But if I’m where I’m meant to be, I can’t understand why I’m alone and locked in the life pod.
I try to sit. There’s not much room to maneuver, and despite the pod’s best efforts to revive me, I’m clumsy and uncoordinated from all the time in deepsleep. But after a few minutes of me struggling like a bug on its back, my muscles respond the way they’re supposed to, enabling me to lift my head and get into a hunched squat. That brings me face-to-face with the readout for my location, and when I see it, I blink and shake my head, thinking my eyes must be betraying me.
The screen’s blank.
Or not exactly blank. There’s a weak blue light emanating from it. But empty. No coordinates. No map. Nothing to tell me whether I’ve reached Tau Ceti e or not.
That could mean a number of things: I’m not where I’m supposed to be. I’m where I’m supposed to be, but the system’s malfunctioning. I’m where I’m supposed to be, but the sensors think I’m not.
Which could mean a number of other things. Deep-space travel’s brand-new—or was when the Executor left. There were no guarantees our destination would end up being what we’d been led to believe. All the data told us Tau Ceti e was sustainable—but then so was Earth, and we saw how well that turned out. So maybe I am here, but the computer’s telling me here doesn’t match what it expected to find.
The dizziness returns as I check the environmental readouts: atmospheric composition and pressure, water, life-forms. They, too, are blank.
I’m faced with a decision. I’m upright, breathing, blinking, moving. All systems go. The emergency release lies within reach. But if I pop the top and I’m not where I’m supposed to be, I’m screwed. Excessive or inadequate pressure. Radiation. Microorganisms. Lots of ways for me to die. And some of them slow and messy.
But the alternative isn’t any prettier. The pod could have kept me alive indefinitely in a suspended state. But now that I’m awake, my body’s clamoring for attention. My stomach cramps from eons of emptiness. My lungs strain to pull oxygen from the enclosed space. Embarrassingly, my bladder feels ready to explode. (Or maybe not so embarrassingly. You try holding it for a thousand years.) If I stay here, within a matter of days or hours I’ll be dead.
My mind is coming clear. It hurts to concentrate, but that’s an unavoidable side effect of not thinking for a millennium. I know what the pods are designed to do. In an emergency scenario, they abandon ship to seek planetary conditions meeting certain minimum requirements for human life. If they don’t find it, they don’t touch down. They wander forever, or at least until they run out of fuel. No one told us how long that was.
So, assuming the pod’s working, it’s set me down somewhere it thinks I can survive. Maybe where it was meant to. The Executor might have experienced trouble in orbit, and the pods responded on cue: eject, search for the right environment, wake the sleeper. Everything might be all right.
Or everything might have failed, theory and/or execution, and the moment I open the door, my head might get sucked off my body.
I take a deep breath. Or try to. The oxygen’s wearing thin. It’s like breathing through a paper mask, the kind people in the Lowerworld used to wear. The kind that got thicker and thicker as the air got less and less breathable.
That settles it. I’ve seen people hacking up lungs. If it’s a choice between that kind of death and the instantaneous, head-sucking kind, I’ll take the latter.
But I’m not a complete idiot. I listened to the JIPOC trainers. The pod carries a self-contained oxygen unit, good for up to twenty-four hours (depending on exertion and anxiety). Another safety feature in case one of the pods gets thrown clear of the ship during touchdown. If I’m where I’m supposed to be, and if the gravitation and air pressure are nearly Earth-normal, and if the Executor’s not far off, the mask should keep me breathing long enough to find it.
Lots of ifs. But at the moment, they’re all I’ve got.
I scan my thumbprint against an icon on the control panel, and the oxygen unit pops out. It slips easily around the back of my head, the mask covering my nose and mouth, the valve fitting between my teeth. I breathe in, and the unit delivers a jolt of O2. It’s as good as the adrenaline, maybe better. My vision is clear and my mind as sharp as it’s going to get.
It’s now or never.
I grip the release, pull the handle up. It moves easily. There’s a tiny pop of air as the pod’s shell opens, the panels folding back like the petals of an elaborate mechanical flower. I raise myself above the level of the pod and take a look around.
The good news is my head stays in place.
The bad news is I can’t see a damn thing.
The weak lights of the pod show me nothing except my own hands and arms and legs. My one-piece gray jumpsuit. The curve of the pod’s innards, the etched letters JIPOC on the front panel of the open shell. Beyond that, total darkness.
And silence. I don’t know what I expect to hear. But whatever it is, I don’t hear it.
I take another deep breath. My lungs expand, not quite as fully as they did in a CanAm Freshen Air apartment back on Earth, but it’ll have to do. For the next twenty-four hours, give or take, I’m not going to suffocate in this place.
After that, if I haven’t found the ship, I’m going to be faced with another choice. But I’ll cross that galaxy when I come to it.
I swing my legs over the lip of the pod and feel for whatever surface it’s resting on. My nerves don’t register anything particularly worrisome, excessive heat or moisture, so I complete the step, planting a foot on solid ground. It’s the tiniest bit spongy, but it holds my weight, even with my out-of-practice muscles feeling stiff and rubbery at the same time. I bring the rest of me out of the pod and stand.
Darkness envelops me. The air feels cold and clammy. I might be standing on the only patch of solid ground in a hundred kilometers for all I can see. There’s a speaker in the oxygen mask, so assuming a sufficient atmosphere to carry the sound, I should be able to communicate. If, that is, there’s anyone within earshot to hear me.
“Hello?” I call out, not too loud. My voice sounds weak and tentative. But I can hear it, slightly distorted by the speaker, which encourages me to try a little louder. “Anyone?”
No answer. I didn’t really expect one. But it feels like an eternity of loneliness has settled on my chest when the only thing that returns to my ears is silence.
I lean into the pod’s pale amber glow. It’s not entirely unequipped for this. A flashlight, a few days’ rations, a syringe. Not much else. The ship was loaded down with everything we needed to terraform Tau Ceti e. But an ejection scenario in deep space is totally different from an emergency situation on Earth. There, if your privacar breaks down outside a safe area, all you need to do is survive a couple of hours until the rescue squad arrives. Out here, if things go wrong, you don’t expect anyone to come to your rescue.
Which means there’s not much point in keeping yourself alive.
The syringe, for example. The trainers said it was for injecting intravenous antibiotics. But Griff insisted it was for what you did when you realized you weren’t going to make it.
Still, I take the supply pouch out of the pod and empty it of its contents. A drinking tube built into the mask enables me to take a swig of water, and that refreshes my throat, though I can’t help recalling as it goes down that my jumpsuit has no waste-processing capabilities. The flashlight shows me a bare patch of rock at my feet, or at least what looks like rock, though it’s got that strange spongy feel. No vegetation that I can see. Mist or fog gathers in the air, its source indeterminate, too thick for the beam to penetrate more than a few meters in any direction. Whichever way I decide to go, I’ll be a moving island of light in a sea of darkness.
Unless, of course, I decide not to move at all.
I sit on the spongy ground. It’s not wet that I can tell, just porous and yielding. I could be imagining this, but it seems to pulse underneath me, like tremors from deep down.
My second decision tonight looks no better than my first.
In fact, it looks a lot worse.
I’m alone. Everyone I know is either dead or scattered across the planet, or more likely the galaxy. Could be I’m the sole human being not only on this world, but on any world. The billions we left behind, they’re long gone. According to the chief catastrologist for the entire Upperworld, Earth had maybe fifty good years left in it. “Good” being a relative term.
I take out the syringe, the vial of clear liquid that goes with it. If Griff’s right, death will be quick and painless. If he’s wrong, I’ll be pumped up on enough antibiotics to fight off an infection I don’t stand a chance of living long enough to contract. In which case death from anoxia will be mine to enjoy, unless the atmosphere is toxic enough to kill me with a single unprotected breath.
I laugh out loud. The sound emerges as a short, ugly squawk.
I’m seventeen Earth-years old. I’ve survived a journey more than fifty times that long. And all I get to do at the end is choose how I’m going to die.
I stare at the syringe in the flashlight’s glow. The liquid has a rainbow in it from the light, which means the visible spectrum on this place is comparable to Earth’s. For all the good that does me. I remember the stories people back home told about rainbows. With all the doomsday predictions on the worldlink, I guess they were looking for hope.
Hope, Sofie used to say, means nothing without struggle.
Her image flashes into my mind. I can see her face, hear her voice. My heart yanks at my chest as I realize this is the first time I’ve thought of her since waking up. I feel unbelievably guilty, as if remembering her now means I’d forgotten her before. I wonder if, wherever she is, she’s thought of me.
When I lost her, I think, I lost everything.
I indulge myself in that thought for about two seconds, then let it go. I’m not willing to give up. I knew when I stepped aboard the Executor that I’d never see her again. I also knew I might never wake, or that if I did, it might have been better if I hadn’t. But I got into the pod anyway. If I learned anything from her, it’s that even when life looks bleakest, there’s a reason to go on.
I swing the flashlight, willing it to penetrate the dark and fog. I shout into the night as loudly as the microphone will let me. “Adrian! Griffin! Anyone!” My voice sounds like I’m pleading.
But I get no reply.
Or that’s not entirely true.
I do get a sound, coming out of the dark and fog. A soft sound, a low sound, a rattling sound. A sound that doesn’t come from a human throat.
The darkness gathers itself to spring.
I guess I was wrong.
I’m not alone here after all.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster Children's Publishing for the opportunity to read and review Freefall by Joshua David Bellin. Seventeen-year-old Cameron wakes from a thousand year deepsleep in the year 3151. The destination of Cameron and almost a million other people is the Earth-analog planet Tau Ceti e. The story alternates between 3151 and the year before people were put into deepsleep, 2150. The mystery surrounding the girl with the golden eyes pulled me into the book. The past eventually catches up to when the deepsleep begins and the story stays on Earth Year 3151. This story is a mix of science fiction, dystopian and mystery and it's filled with suspense, strange creatures and twists. 5 stars! *I received a complimentary copy of this book for voluntary review consideration.
I am definitely in the minority with this, but “Freefall” felt blah to me. There was a good story and good world-building in there, but it feels like it moved at a snail’s pace getting to anything exciting. I also felt disconnected from the main characters. This is one of those where I can neither recommend nor not recommend it. This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
Make no mistake, FREEFALL by Joshua Bellin is clearly a swoon-worthy Romance. However, it is also a socio-ecological-economical-political treatise set in a futuristic sci-fi world. This story is told from Cam Newell's point-of-view in an authentic male teen voice and emotions. Teachers, I recommend this novel for reluctant readers. I haven't seen the Lexile rating, but I doubt it's above a 6.5. The time and place shifts consistently, alternating between past on Earth and present on a distance planet. However, the reader is given guidance with these shifts with year-dates in the headings. More subtly, the tenses change--past for past on Earth, and present tense for the space-planet chapters. Interesting twists await in the climax and resolution, ending on a satisfying note. Bellin is a master at world-building.
FREEFALL by Joshua David Bellin On many levels, Freefall, by Joshua Bellin is much, much more than a Young Adult science fiction adventure. Extremely well written, provocative, and expertly imagined, this Older Adult reader was impressed. Freefall, though taking place on a future Earth and beyond, resonates with a number of topical issues from today’s fractured society. The narrative explores immigration, racism, poverty, friendship, young love in sometimes powerful and moving passages. As part of the Otherworld Colonization Protocol, seventeen-year-old Cameron Newell is included in a select group of people picked for emigration to a distant, uninhabited planet to restart civilization. The journey will take a thousand years, with Cam and the other passengers aboard the Upperworld starship Executor and those on the Lowerworld starship Freefall in deepsleep the entire time. But when Cam awakes, at the correct future time, he and everyone else on both ships have landed on the wrong planet – a bleak, blasted, deadly world filled with hideous nocturnal predators – with the ships’ propulsion systems deactivated. What happened to cause this horrible mistake? That’s only one of the mysteries Cam sets out to investigate. When Cam discovers the leader of the Lowerworld colonists, Sofie Patel, the young girl he loves against all societal mores, is in danger, he puts his own life on the line to save her. Sofie is a terrific, inspiring character, putting me in mind of real-life hero Malala Yousafzai. More than one shocking twist awaits the reader in the story. All I can say here is – reader beware! These are well done. My only complaints are minor. Though some very inventive phrases have been created for this future world – Corponation, nanoroids, TransSpeak, terrarist – there’s no new slang the young people use. In fact, “dude” and “dorky” are still around in the year 2150, which is fine, but I would have liked to see something more unique to the time. Also, a couple coincidences slow the narrative a little. Some essential characters mentioned throughout the book do eventually take on visible and important roles, but seem to be inserted too late in the story to be completely convincing. Nevertheless, Bellin takes on many important topics in Freefall, reflecting on our own divided world, making Freefall shine in the process. Thought-provoking, exciting, and recommended.
This fantastic new sci-fi/fantasy YA book most definitely sounds like the 'real' world right off the bat. From the very beginning, readers learn that the upper 1% of Earth - the privileged, if you will - are going to abandon planet Earth. Yes, Earth has been absolutely devastated and the only ones who will have to stay on Earth (now called: the Lowerworld) are the lesser beings who are most definitely rejects and certainly not good enough to colonize the pristine new planet with the 'upper crust' citizens. But love...can change everything. In the Lowerworld, a video is created that crosses paths with the main character of this book, Cam Newell, and his two best friends, Adrian and Griff. These guys are spending their days in Colonization Preparation - doing things that are getting them trained and ready to make the new planet their home - when one of them hacks into a server and comes across this video. The Lowerworlders are basically protesting. They say "Otherworld Colonization," which is what only the top 1% of the populace gets to do, "is a right NOT a privilege." (Sound familiar?) But it's not so much the words that call out to Cam; he becomes entranced by a girl on the video who he believes is talking directly to him. This is a girl "with golden eyes" who pierces his heart and buries herself in his soul. Her words, her beliefs - they open Cam's eyes to the unfairness of what's happening all around him. But even understanding won't stop the battles that are coming. One thousand years in the future, Cam wakes up in his pod (that was supposed to 'shoot' him to the new planet) to find that he is all alone. He is trapped on a completely unknown planet that has its own hostilities and may just point their anger directly at him. Will he find Sofie again? Did he do something one thousand years ago that brought about this complete failure? Did his love for Sofie somehow sabotage humanity? You will have to read to find out. The sci-fi/fantasy aspects of this tale are awesome. But most readers will also note that a great deal of the foundation of this tale is still very much happening in our own world in 2017. This author has managed to address social and cultural issues that we, as Earth's citizens, have been dealing with and fighting about since the beginning of time. And even though we have changed in some areas and grown in others, with each new decade bringing about more understanding of other cultures, there are still too many out there who will never fully accept the fact that there should never be a 'Lowerworld' and an 'Upperworld:' there should just be one world where everyone is offered the same chances at happiness and success. Quill says: A great story that offers fun and fantasy, while teaching a moral path.