– Jacob Foxx –
They don’t write many novels like this anymore. Fear the Sky is a combination of classic hard science fiction, technothriller, and spy thriller. Rich in detail and incredibly realistic, it covers just about every branch of the military as well as several advanced weapon systems in each branch. Author Stephen Moss demonstrates an impressive knowledge of military technology and applies it to a plausible alien invasion plot that follows many familiar tropes while giving its own spin on others.
Told from a near omnipresent third-person perspective, Fear the Sky is about the arrival of an alien infiltration unit sent to Earth in preparation for a full-scale invasion that is to come twelve years later. Their job is to infiltrate Earth’s militaries and disable our nuclear deterrent. Their landing capsules are disguised as meteor fragments but their suspicious impact points leaves scientist Neal Danielson wondering if they are more than just space debris. He manages to persuade the scientific adviser to the President to let him and a research team take a closer look at one of the impact sites. Before he and his research team can learn the truth, the alien entity sinks their research vessel near the site of the impact, making it appear as an accident. Danielson and one of his colleagues, Madeline Cavanagh, survive, realizing that the objects were alien vessels and they mean us harm.
The book details the efforts of Danielson, Cavanagh and a small group of talented men and women working to thwart the alien invasion. Lucky for them, one of the aliens that landed on Earth does not intend to carry out his mission. He intends to help the pitifully weak humans prevent their extinction.
The first thing readers will notice is the rich detail and sheer breadth of knowledge brought to bear in this novel. It extends beyond astrophysics into military technology, espionage, geopolitics, and deep sea exploration. As you delve deeper, you feel as if the scenario may actually be plausible. Everything from the alien plan to the human response were well thought-out. I could only find the tiniest of questionable details within the whole story.
Of course, rich detail and exposition is a double-edged sword. The plentiful details weigh down the middle and parts of the ending of the novel. The heavy information is communicated directly by the narrator or in contrived meetings and briefings among the characters that have all the excitement of a Congressional subcommittee hearing. For those big into hard science fiction or technothrillers, you’ll love it. For most others, it will bore you to the point of skimming over several chapters.
The omnipresent narrator saps some of the suspense and drama from the story by jumping from character to character, giving a pretty dry play-by-play of each meeting or conversation. Most of the narration is dry, analytical, appealing to the rational side of the reader but giving very little in the way of raw emotions. Most of the dialogue exchanges are very civil, reasonable, lacking in tension. In contrast, the alien antagonists are pretty nasty, resembling Dark Age warlords. I would’ve preferred a more sophisticated and less stereotypical villain but most readers probably won’t mind.
Overall Fear the Sky has a classic, golden age feel to it, reading a lot like War of the Worlds or Starship Troopers. Some authors still hold to the omnipresent narrator giving plenty of exposition into science, politics, and warfare. Others feel they need to make the aliens bigger, nastier, and weirder to out do their predecessors. Thankfully this author does not attempt that in this novel. Classic science fiction usually had a bit of social commentary, which Fear the Sky is lacking. Having said that, it did compellingly demonstrate the effectiveness of a small but dedicated group. I enjoyed watching them progress in their efforts to thwart the alien threat while large corporations and government bureaucracies, including the US military, struggled. Politicians and ladder-climbers do not fair well in this novel.
It is the first in a series, which means the threat is not extinguished at the end of the novel. Fortunately, it has the proper balance of plot progression and unresolved issues to have readers excited for the sequel. As a work of hard science fiction with significant military elements, it scores pretty high. It is well-researched and plausible. The way the conflict unfolded also had the feel of a spy novel in some chapters, and a technothriller in others, which gives it some broader appeal beyond the hardcore sci-fi readers. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend it for readers who shy away from these subgenres. Suspense, drama, character development, and pacing are all a little weak by general literary standards. But for the right audience, it is an excellent read.
Jacob Foxx is the Editor of Prescientcifi.com and author of two novels: The Fifth World and the sequel The Fifth World: The Times That Try Men’s Souls. When he is not reading or writing science fiction, he works as a regulatory affairs consultant for small biotech companies in Raleigh, North Carolina.