Humans and alien exiles must cooperate and mount a defense of Earth when hostile forces penetrate the solar system.
Wood (The Hoo-Lii Chronicles, 2019, etc.) concludes his Clash of the Aliens pentalogy with a military-diplomatic sci-fi novel. Newbies beware: Readers are presumed to be intimate with all four earlier volumes. Humanity has rebounded from a global nuclear war as spacefarers, thanks to hardworking survivors like Cleveland-area engineer Taylor MacPherson and timely technology copied from the Qu’uda, a salamanderlike, advanced alien race. Their stratified, xenophobic society led an interstellar exploratory team to abandon part of a Qu’uda expedition on semi-anarchic Earth. But more visitors have arrived—the insectoid Hoo-Lii, a hivelike matriarchy, personified by the imperious queen Suh-Joh. When her battle-damaged scout craft was welcomed without violence by Earth in previous narratives, Suh-Joh’s cultural point of view led her to the conclusion that the natives were unconditionally submitting to her as “new servants.” But there are far worse first contact problems. Suh-Joh is pursued under a death sentence by her fellow Hoo-Lii as a dangerous “heretic” and armadas of warships from their home world are on an attack vector for Earth. Meanwhile, MacPherson and his allies in the Space Force are under siege by homegrown political hacks. Backed by Chinese imperialist warlords who parrot Maoist propaganda of yesteryear, they are trying to force MacPherson and his pragmatic pals (human and alien) out of power. In this fast-paced, lively, and enjoyable finale, Wood offers a wide array of intrigues, battles, and retreats. MacPherson and numerous resourceful supporting characters whom series followers have come to know tend to blur in the whirlwind, and some significant names just seem to drop out altogether (or are killed in action without comment). But the author finds the breathing space—just barely—to deftly convey through various ET and human dialogues the bewilderment and ultimate Starfleet/Federation-esque good sense shown by three vastly different intelligent species learning to get along, despite their disagreements and misunderstandings.
A satisfying wrap-up to a multispecies sci-fi saga that delivers plenty of aliens and clashes.
A generation after a global nuclear war, surviving fragments of society in Ohio try to resurrect technology and defenses when Earth faces a looming menace from alien interlopers.
This fourth installment of a sci-fi series continues a saga in which three divergent, interstellar races collide in a cross-cultural mess of first contact catastrophic misunderstandings. This happens right after humanity backslides into the Dark Ages via a self-inflicted nuclear holocaust. When the lively narrative isn’t centered on exotic ETs—the salamanderlike Qu’uda or the insectoid Hoo-Lii—this volume offers a get-the-job-done yarn of dogged folks rebuilding remnants of North America in the decades following an atomic strike. With the unlikely new capital in Ohio (Buckeye State geography shoutouts abound), aging visionary leader Taylor MacPherson unites squabbling fiefdoms through the restoration of long-dormant electricity, industry, and transportation services—and, when necessary, diplomacy-cum–military conquest on horseback against unneighborly, bullying warlords. MacPherson’s indispensable ally is the alien Bilik “Billy Potato” Pudjata, a brilliant Qu’uda surgically altered by his exploratory spaceship crew to blend in with earthlings. (He is ultimately abandoned, along with four crew members, by the xenophobic Qu’uda in mothership orbit.) Bilik’s advanced science and clean-energy secrets permit humanity’s restoration of air travel and even a nascent space force—vital because the other Qu’uda, although war-wounded and in disarray deep in the solar system, aim to return and exterminate the human “savages.” How this resolves is effectively related by Wood (The Hoo-Lii Chronicles, 2019, etc.) exclusively through the barely comprehending (compound?) eyes of a Hoo-Lii expedition in Book 3. Replaying the events now is no less suspenseful, though the author has to span years of developments, battles, political intrigue, and Taylor’s melodramatic, tumultuous romantic life, giving the already hefty installment enough incidents for multiple volumes of its own. Going even wordier might have helped flesh out the characters and motivations, but this book still delivers breathless, addictive stuff. When one military guy looks forward to “making America great again,” the sentiment is sincere, not chuckleworthy.
A solid post-apocalypse/space-war action tale for sci-fi fans—who will likely imbibe the lean storytelling in big gulps.
In Wood’s (Collapse, 2018, etc.) sci-fi novel, a planet of insectoid creatures, already stricken by internal conflict, reacts fearfully to evidence of other intelligent life.
The previous two books in this series were conventional, if well-told, narratives of an Earth reduced to survivalist feudalism by a terrorism-inspired nuclear barrage. The remnants of American society then received a fateful visit from the inquisitive Qu’uda—amphibian extraterrestrials seeking habitable worlds. Here, in Book 3, the perspective shifts sharply to a faraway, exotic alien civilization. It’s a technologically advanced world that’s dominated by insectlike beings, with a matriarchy of divalike queens at the apex of society; the latter have exoskeletons with deadly retractable spines, and they communicate, in part, by scent. Earlier wars between hives tainted the planet’s environment; now, they’ve agreed on an uneasy détente for the greater good of their gene pool and adhere to a religion (“the Way of the Mother”) that bans fusion weapons, among other things. An unwary Qu’uda scout ship intrudes into the situation, triggering cataclysmic misunderstandings that will echo throughout the series’ overarching storyline. Middle chapters in multivolume sci-fi sagas often get little respect, as they’re often perceived as mere bridges to get from one major point to another. But in this third installment of the five-part Clash of the Aliens series, invested readers receive stylistic dividends. For example, Wood telegraphs the resolution by framing the story as a report by historian Kot-Nih, who pieces events together from various testimonies. The alien advises readers that there are no villains, and indeed, Wood’s tale doesn’t portray any of the three cultures as intrinsically evil—although all indulge in dangerous games of power, prestige, and social ostracism; indeed, Homo sapiens may come off as the worst of the lot. This volume isn’t as action-packed as Wood’s earlier books, but it moves things along in a fresh manner, and its total immersion in alien values is compelling in its own right. It may inspire its human readers to just leave those annoying carpenter-ant mounds in the yard alone.
An intriguing development as an alien-first-contact epic sprouts new characters.
Stranded in Ohio after a nuclear war, an alien from an extraterrestrial expedition strives to revive human technology to repair his damaged spaceship in this sci-fi sequel.
Wood’s (Collapse, 2018, etc.) series curtain raiser featured Cleveland area engineer Taylor McPherson assuming leadership after a global nuclear strike by Islamic terrorists. That attack caused the “Collapse,” a decline of worldwide civilization into pre-industrial savagery. McPherson and some Ohio neighbors formed “the Clan,” a community to defend against raiders and looters. Now, 20 years later, the Clan is a self-sustaining, agricultural nation-state. But—led by status-hungry “Elders,” who barely remember old times—the group is also insular and tribal, little better than its backward rivals like the “Midwest Federation” downstate. Into the Federation, however, arrives an extraordinary visitor who was a subplot in the first book. Bilik Pudjata belongs to a deep-space mission by the reptilian Qu’uda, who detected life on Earth—ironically just before the nuclear holocaust. With their starship crippled by shots from an automated defense satellite, the aliens’ one hope is Bilik, clumsily re-engineered as humanlike to infiltrate the “dry land egg-sucking mammalian vermin” and restart metal-forging technology to build crucial replacement parts. Readers with memories of the later, darker chapters of Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court may note the captivating parallels. Bilik—his name phonetically misinterpreted as “Billy Potato”—becomes the technocratic boss of the Federation and reintroduces electricity, mass-produced guns, and regimented discipline to barely comprehending feudal barbarians. Meanwhile, a suspicious and bellicose Clan needs the advice of the aged, deposed McPherson on what to do about unfamiliar weapons, trained soldiers, and flying machines. Wood’s first installment of his Clash of the Aliens five-part series was a well-told but standard post-apocalyptic survivalist tale. Here he contributes a limber and suspenseful second volume. McPherson and especially Bilik are among the few sympathetic characters in this coarse world, with each one heroic and tirelessly resourceful yet ultimately cast aside by their selfish brethren. Wood offers considerable battle scenes (“That’s a lot of gunfire....It was Shig’s last thought as a large caliber lead ball smashed through his chest, lifting him out of his saddle”). Amid the vivid clashes is the tantalizing question of whether the two remarkable protagonists will ever actually meet and what might ensue. The prospect of future books is indeed promising.
A superior second installment of an intriguing dystopian saga.
After a nuclear strike ravages the world, suburbanites in northeast Ohio struggle in a harsh new environment of subsistence-survival and murderous gangs—unaware that an alien spaceship is en route.
Author Wood (Trash, 2018, etc.) begins his sci-fi pentalogy with a narrative that is unequally split between pulpy post-apocalyptic action-survival and alien first-contact. In the near future, Islamist fanatics in Tadzhikistan launch an all-out nuclear strike using high-yield weapons and electromagnetic pulse bombs bought from Russia and China (the terrorists have no compunction about firing the warheads right back at Russia and China). All global communications cease, and most major world cities are atomized, though the worst of the thermonuclear holocaust spares much of the American Midwest. Still, with food shipments, goods, and government authority all but extinct, civilization quickly degrades into gang looting and barbarism. Just to the west of Cleveland, Taylor MacPherson is a mild-mannered engineer, reluctantly thrust into a role of local protector and leader of his community when area biker gangs and lowlifes start raping and pillaging. Successfully beating back marauders with improvised weapons and barricades, Taylor and his fellow suburbanites begin the task of restarting organized society, with currency, taxes, and courts. Meanwhile, however, in deep space, a bizarre, egg-laying hermaphroditic species called the Qu’uda have just detected their first transmissions from Earth (which they call Kota). The possibility of a habitable planet—strategically important now that the Qu’uda are in a state of hostilities with another space-going race—sparks a long-distance expedition to the Kota system. Wood tells his prepper yarn in effective, get-the-job-done prose reminiscent of Alistair MacLean. Sympathy is generated for the hero and his cohorts, and Taylor is a regular-fellow type surprised by how quickly he accommodates violence and survivalist pragmatism when he must. As thinly shaded as the ET stuff is in this kickoff, the question of whether the Qu’uda will turn out friend or foe here makes for a tantalizing one in the view of the saga. Northeast Ohio readers and armchair Cleveland tourists (if any) will be interested in the ways Wood works the geography of that much-besmirched city into the plotline.
Nuclear holocaust, savagery, and space aliens converge on Cleveland in a competent start to a five-part series.
A young engineer finds himself in hot water when the bigwigs at his workplace start cutting corners, ignoring his advice and playing dirty.
Daniel Robles is an upstanding, ethically sound engineer who quickly learns that his employers are more interested in the bottom line than the wellbeing of their employees. They often ignore his creditable advice when it comes to safety matters, especially at financially fragile Schirmerling Tire and Rubber Company. Wood capably draws some gratifyingly rude characters: O’Brien, head of security and overseer of a meth lab secreted away at the tire plant, and Hodges, who would rather save a dime than worry about a worker being steamed like a lobster by the company’s dangerously flimsy boilers. Wood also colorfully depicts Robles’ girlfriend, Carol, a deeply manipulative woman not afraid to pull the Lysistrata trick on him in order to get her way. But when Wood uses italicized letters to let readers into his characters’ heads, things get stilted. It’s difficult to imagine Robles thinking to himself, “He says there’s a position at Schirmerling Tire & Rubber in Akron, Ohio, a nice, respectable company. It’s time for a change, a time for something better. And Akron is near Kent, where Hector, my brother lives. Yes, it’s time.” The enjoyable complexity of this thriller—at one point, Robles is being framed in more ways than one—is handled with aplomb by Wood, though certain side plots fail to get the attention they deserve, such as O’Brien’s gambling issues and Hector’s delamination after the Kent State shootings (the story takes place in 1970). Nor does Wood conjure the ambiance of the time, which surely could have cast the evildoers in an even harsher light. The story’s precarious balance keeps readers involved, particularly with Robles’ gathering tribulations, the company’s vileness and a bracing denouement in the boiler room. The sex scenes, on the other hand, are flaccid: “Carol liked his long hair. And he liked to please her, for when he did, she pleased him in ways he really liked.” Like, please.
Wood’s tale of greed and violence versus decency is best when revved up and rolling, not just spinning the tires.