POD by Stephen Wallenfels

POD stephen wallenfels promo copyWhen the Cataclysm arrives, Megs, a 12-year-old streetwise girl, is trapped in a hotel parking garage in Los Angeles; and 16-year-old Josh is stuck in a house in Prosser, Washington, with his increasingly obsessive-compulsive father. Food and water and time are running out. Will Megs survive long enough to find her mother? Will Josh and his father survive each other? These are the questions that must be answered when giant black spheres appear in the sky and start disintegrating any people that are unlucky enough to be outside at the time.

The book shares many elements in common with Stephen King’s Under The Dome where the main antagonists are other people and the alien/supernatural event is merely the backdrop behind the story. And, like Under The Dome, POD is focused around survivors trying to fend off starvation, dehydration and the savage nature of humanity.

The main flaws in this book are, despite adequate narrative, somewhat hollow characterization and a weak alien entity. The PODs only attack people whom are outside, but never once attack those hiding inside buildings. Perhaps Wallenfels could have covered this by having a character discuss the nature of aliens, suggesting that anything patient enough to travel across the universe can wait a few more weeks while the human race starves to death or tears itself apart, making for a much more efficient invasion to follow (as intergalactic travel would be very costly in terms of resources and fuel.) Unfortunately any suggestion of justification never comes up in the book, and instead of coming across as ominous and mysterious the PODs merely seem ineffective and underwhelming.

Also, having two points of view doesn’t offer us any new insights or opinions, instead just rehashing what we have read in previous chapters. Though the tone is good and the pacing adequate, Wallenfels missed an opportunity to have a third point of view from a military/political/scientific character to provide needed exposition and paint a more vivid image of just how hostile these aliens really are.

POD is Wallenfels debut novel and, despite it’s flaws and plot holes, is still an enjoyable read. It does make a nice change to have a character-driven alien apocalypse instead of the typical Hollywood guns and explosions treatment. The reality is, when the apocalypse occurs, the majority of people are going to just try and survive, not become warriors overnight. Humans are an adaptive survivalist species, we are primed to flee before we fight, and it makes for a decent and moody story to explore this element of an apocalypse.

Wallenfels has written a sequel titled MONOLITH, and hopefully, he has fine tuned his craft somewhat for this second installment so we can get some questions answered. I eagerly await getting my hands on a copy of this book so the characters and I can get some proper closure.

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