[Note: I received a copy of The Invasion after contacting the publisher, Gryphonwood Press to request to review that title, and they kindly sent me one]
What would you think was happening if snow suddenly started to fall? You’d probably put on some warm clothes, check that the roads were going to be gritted by the council, maybe check your tyres are inflated properly and that you have a scraper and a can of de-icer in the car for tackling your windscreen in the morning. Basic stuff, I’m sure you’d agree. But what if the snow that started falling was a bright, luminous green in colour? And, furthermore, what if you put a hand out to let a snowflake rest on your hand – and the snowflake went straight through your hand and left a horrific, intensely painful burn instead? Not quite so basic a situation now – and yet that’s what the characters in William Meikle’s The Invasion suddenly have to contend with, when the entire Eastern coast of North America is suddenly coated by this glowing, alien acid snow that burns anything organic, including humans, animals and even plant life, and kills it in short order.
Mr Meikle writes on his personal website that The Invasion is one of his most best-selling titles, having sold more than 20,000 copies worldwide and making it as high as #2 in the Amazon Kindle Science-Fiction and Horror genre charts, and after I had finished reading it I can easily understand why it’s been so successful. The Invasion is not only a fast-paced, tightly-plotted and well written piece of alien invasion/apocalyptic fiction, three elements that would already put it in good stead amongst its many competitors; but it also features some quite distinctive elements that I think have helped propel it so become so successful. Firstly, unlike the vast majority of titles that feature alien invasions, or general apocalyptic scenarios, The Invasion isn’t set in a major city, or the suburbs, but instead takes place in a very different geographical setting – an isolated village in Eastern Canada, populated only by a few hardy locals, hunters and a conspiracy theorist/militia member who has built an extensive bunker/survival system. So instead of long, drawn-out scenes of urban chaos, exploding buildings and a faceless cast of tens of thousands, the author instead deftly provides the reader with only a few POV characters, thereby ensuring that they can be quickly focused upon and emphasised with.
Another factor in the novel’s favour is the fact that the alien invasion – or at least, the first wave of it – literally takes place in the first page of the book, so instead of multiple chapters setting out the background and motivations of various characters, or a complex backstory to the invasion, we are instead thrown directly into the action, a relentless pace that never lets up throughout the entire story, moving from one set piece to another; the final few chapters are particularly intense, to the degree that I had to take a rest every few pages to figuratively get my breath back. I also enjoyed the fact that the alien force invading the North America – and very shortly afterwards, the world – are quite literally alien, strange, insect-like creatures that are eventually formed from the green snow. There are no Independence Day-style aliens here that are Basically Human Except For An Exoskeleton – and their organic evolution, from snow to larvae to combat forms, is not only entirely alien to human experience, but also has internal logic behind it that really appealed to me. There are so many authors who simply describe an alien species without considering how, or why, they have evolved in that way, and the fact that Mr Meikle has obviously done this really adds another dimension to the story.
Finally, The Invasion can be incredibly gruesome at times, with people being shot and cut and burnt, and being melted into rapidly-dissolving corpses, and entire populations being decimated in a very short period of time. Mr Meikle obviously had some fun writing these portions of the story, and while they can be somewhat horrifying at times, none of the descriptions are overly graphic or detailed for the sake of drawing a reaction. This is an incredibly enjoyable novel to read, with interesting characters, great action scenes (particularly one set late in the story on-board a surviving aircraft carrier) and some fascinating detail added to the alien foe that made me want to read it again and again.