15 April 2011

Invasion by Jon S. Lewis

He didn't ask for the job, but now all that stands between us and chaos . . . is Colt.

Colt McAlister was having the summer of his life. He spent his days surfing and his nights playing guitar on the beach with friends. He even met a girl and got his first car. But everything changes when his parents are killed in a freak accident.

He's forced to leave his old life behind and move to Arizona with his grandfather. The only person he knows at the new high school is a childhood friend named Dani. And Oz, a guy he's sure he's never met but who is strangely familiar.

But what if his parents' death wasn't an accident? His mother, and invesitgative reporter, was going to expose a secret mind-control program run by one of the world's largest companies. Before she could release the story, what if agents from Trident Biotech made sure she couldn't go public?

Vowing to uncover truth, Colt gets drawn into a secret world of aliens, shapeshifters, flying motorcycles, and invisible getaways.

The invasion has begun.

This is the first book in the C.H.A.O.S. Series. Even though I am a series completionist I think this will be my last read in this series. I just didn't connect with this book at all. Perhaps it is because I'm not really in the target demographic of pre-teen boys (who I think would eat this up and ask for more), but I found all the technical problems too glaring to enjoy the book. First was the author's problem with starting the book. He jumps us into a "boot camp trial" at the CHAOS Agency where a character named Oz Romero acts as the exposition computer and our lead, Colt, experiences a little bullying for being so small but finds out that he is the seventh son in a history of alien-fighters extending back to his grandfather, who was so legendary there is a popular series of comic books based on his World War II exploits (I'd call Colt a Mary-Sue, but that would imply that there was some kind of female influence in the book which really wasn't present at all). After the military trial we skip to Colt being attacked by a tentacle monster while his parents are killed in a car wreck with a drunk driver. Colt responds to this much like he responded to the bullies at the military tryout: woodenly. He does make best friends with Danielle, who he thinks of as "the little sister he never had" but who is a "quick study" at video games (*insert sarcastic tone* extraordinary, really, since boys are much better at video games than girls, of course). It's ok, though, because she eats salad like a normal girl, and she forces him to explore his feelings (difficult to do in such an emotionless character) and other *girly* emotional things. She's nothing, though, compared to Lily, who has "playful" eyes, "golden waves" of blonde hair, and a "melodic" voice that captivates Colt even before he discovers that she smells like orange blossoms. Meanwhile Colt becomes best friends, again, with Oz (CHAOS wiped his memory of his tryout) and gets tipped off that his parents were killed because his mother was about to write a huge exposee on the Trident company's experiments with mind control.

I think one of the strangest things about this book, though, are the details. It is as if the author felt that he should flesh out the story by making interesting details, but they're so unrelated to what's going on that they read like filler. His male characters get strange names like Colt, Oswaldo, and Aristotle. He wastes half a page on Colt and Danielle arguing over who should pay for gas (he does, of course), and another paragraph on the color of sheet they use to cover up Colt's stolen motorbike/plane (because pink is icky). Some of these details are downright misogynistic. Danielle evades capture in a high-speed car chase but looses the laptop her pursuers were after because she leaves it in her car as she goes for ice-cream (because although she eats salad like a good girl she needs to follow up high-speed pursuit with a triple chocolate sundae). And the most concerning part of being chased by robots to Danielle is worrying about whether or not the robot recorded any close-ups where her makeup is smudged. Even the robots are gendered: the killer ones are male and the servant/waitress ones are obviously "made to look and sound like a female". The cliched sentences even start to contradict themselves. Danielle warns Colt that "if you really care about her like I think you do, you need to protect her" while on the next page Colt thinks to himself that Lily "wasn't wearing a ring on her finger" (because lots of 16 year old girls are?) "that meant she was fair game" to Oz, but Colt is torn because he "didn't want to reduce Lily to some kind of a prize that went to the winner."

The other major issue is Colt's Mary Sue tendencies. He steals a motorbike/plane to escape from trained military assassins and easily outruns them. He outfights a mind-controlled superhuman programmed to capture him. He is the seventh son of a seventh son . . . (okay, the first is true but the second is not - although I wouldn't be surprised). He's also implied to be psychic: he knew *somehow* that Trident was behind his parents' deaths, and that Oz knows more about Trident than he lets on. He has the highest test scores in the history of CHAOS, and he's hand-picked to lead the organization before he even starts attending their academy (and while he's still 16). He has a girl sidekick (the scatterbrained Danielle, mentioned above) who "gets computers" well enough to hack into an alien corporation's top secret network and a guy sidekick who is probably the only person under the age of 20 who knows all about alien planets and has connections on all of them. And, to top it all off, he plays guitar just enough so that he can accompany the future-country-star Lily as she sings in church.

In all, I think this book shows its roots too much. It reads rather like a comic book without the pictures, complete with stilted dialogue and cookie-cutter plotting. It also is way too sexist, even when it is trying not to be (another major problem I have with much of the comic industry). I don't think I could recommend this book to anyone, even the pre-teen boys who might enjoy it, because I would worry that it would give them bad ideas about girls and gender.

I was provided with a free copy of this book through netgalley, however, I felt guilty getting such a book for free and declined the review and bought a copy so that I could do what I thought of as a proper review.

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