Crazyjamie's Reviews > Pod

Pod by Stephen Wallenfels
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Nov 21, 11

Read in November, 2011

In case you hadn't noticed, aliens have plenty of options when it comes to finally invading Earth. In POD, they opt to drop in via millions of black orbs, which stay suspended over populated areas, systemically zapping any poor unfortunate person that happens to wander outside (or be outside when they land). Yet for some reason, they opt not to attack buildings or the people within them. And so it is that 15 year old Josh becomes trapped in his house with his dad, and 12 year old Megs becomes trapped in a car park with no one for company except some rather sinister security personnel from a neighbouring hotel.

Given that the title of the book is POD (which is the acronym that Josh gives to the orbs, standing for Pearls of Death), at first glance you would perhaps expect a story of desperate survival as Josh and Megs face the mysterious alien onslaught from within precarious shelter. You may expect that, but you would be wrong, because that isn't really what the book is about. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely an undeniable alien menace, but the book isn't about the aliens. In fact, the book is about the stories of Josh and Megs as they attempt to survive on limited resources within their individual environments. The aliens, whilst no doubt threatening, are simply a way to trap these children within their environment, and very little more. Yes, the aliens do more than zap as the book progresses, but at no point is anything explained or discovered about them. Whilst this may be a matter left to the imagination, I found it disappointing that the aliens were descended to nothing more than a convenient way to keep the main characters indoors. In all honesty, it made me think that the author himself doesn't know enough about the aliens and hadn't fully thought them through, which is always an ominous sign in a book like this.

And against this backdrop, what we have is two essentially unconnected stories playing out in alternating chapters. In fact, Megs' story doesn't need the aliens at all except for there needing to be a reason why she can't leave the car park, as the villains in her plot are the security personnel. Josh faces the classic 'limited resources' scenario, but there is little to grip here other than a constant wave of clichés. There are some adult themes dealt with and some marginally risque moments for a teen fiction book, but nothing that announces itself as particularly original. And ultimately the way that the book ends, and the culmination of the plot as regards the aliens, is so lazy and dissatisfying that it just highlights how distinctly mediocre the rest of the book is.

The thing is, this sort of desperate survival story has been done many times before. If you're looking for a teen fiction version, I would recommend Life As We Knew It by Susan Pfeffer, which plays the story out following a catastrophic natural disaster. Because in that book the big event is something which can actually directly affect the characters, and which equally intertwines with the plot itself. In POD, the aliens don't do that. Which means that what we have is two separate stories where the glaring hole in each is plugged by an under developed and ultimately underwhelming plot mechanic.

And that's it. There are a few nice touches, and the book is certainly readable. It's just that by the end the overwhelming feeling is of anti climax and 'is that it?'. Because when all is said and done, the lack of information about the aliens and the use of them as little more than a reason why the kids can't go outside, undermines the authenticity of the stories. Megs' story has some redeeming features of its own, and is certainly the better tale, but by the end Josh's story needed context that never arrives. The thing that should be the most interested from an imagination perspective, the aliens themselves, are not given nearly enough attention by the author, and the two stories become dissatisfying as a result.

It's not a terrible book by any means, but all in all it is difficult to recommend given the strength of the sci-fi genre.

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