Saturday, October 29, 2011

Invasion (C.H.A.O.S. Trilogy #1), by Jon S. Lewis


Improbably named surfer teen Colt McAlister learns the hard way that comic book monsters are real as he faces off against shape-shifting aliens. Evil, shape-shifting aliens with nefarious plans for the the human race. Aliens armed with mind control chips, flying motorcycles, alien minions, and robot bodyguards. Colt, his childhood friend/requisite hacker, and an ultra-buff and well-connected new buddy struggle to prevent world domination while trying to avenge the mysterious deaths of Colt's parents. Will they succeed? Do we care?

We start off with an account of Colt's tour of the super secret training school, where his father and brothers went before him. (The school is run by government agency C.H.A.O.S., a Get Smart/Inspector Gadget/007-villain-sounding acronym if ever I've heard one.)  In a sort of Ender's Game redux, complete with war video games to prepare for alien threats, Colt outperforms many of his peers and is rumored to be something of a prodigy, for unspecified reasons. This is the most interesting part of the book.

Sadly, Colt's mind is wiped (so that he does not remember the tour or his "try out" at the super secret school, obviously), and that is the last we hear of the super secret school.* The rest of the book is a rather humdrum science fiction adventure told without any polish, verve, or style.

The characters are mere cardboard cutouts, devoid of any real heft or personality. Oddly, the character I cared most about was the largely peripheral Lily, the would-be target for Colt's romantic inclinations. Colt himself was not clearly defined, despite attempts to humanize him by killing his parents and giving him a seemingly unattainable crush. Danielle and Oz are their actions--they matter only to the extent that they act.

The story is simply not strong enough to overcome the underwhelming characters. The whole thing is riddled with plot holes--a bunch of teens in a jam fail to consult a close family relative who has successfully fought these exact same bad guys in the past, a teen hacker is able to effortlessly access the secured files of a supposedly cutting edge tech company, the kids are always doing something ridiculous like going out for ice cream immediately following a thwarted assassination attempt (of which there are many--these are, like, the least competent corporate alien assassins ever), and a conveniently helpful fight promoter functions as a highly improbable deus ex machina in the trio's hour of need.

I admit that bringing pulp and comic book war heroes into the "real world" is a creative premise, and I was amused by the image of Nazis relying on or being controlled by aliens and monsters. However, it felt like Lewis just came up with a bunch of attention-grabbing science fiction concepts (flying motorcycles! aliens! mind control!) and then tried to mash them together without bothering to connect them into a unified whole.

Bottom line: Kids might like it (it's fairly clean and harmless), but there's not much here to enthrall a more discriminating reader.

*Apparently Colt returns to the super secret school in the upcoming sequel due out next year.

[Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”]

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