I was zombie free for most of the summer. Once The Walking Dead ended, I mean. And except that one book, The Girl with All the Gifts, which hardly counts, right, because that was really literary fiction. Oh, and I started that anthology The Living Dead, but didn’t get very far, so that shouldn’t count either. So when I saw a post about the novel Falling Sky, I was both nostalgic and intrigued. Zombies? Check. Apocalypse? Check. Airships? –Wait, what?
Basic gist: Ben and his airship Cherub have reluctantly taken a contract to work with the scientists of the small community of Apple Pi.. It has been a couple of generations since the Bug appeared, and the group of scientists there are hoping their research will bring a vaccine. Maybe even turn the infected, aggressive Ferals back into people. Ben considers it a pipe dream, and when the scientists want him to transport a Feral in Cherub, he puts his foot down. No matter how much he might admire Miranda, one of the lead scientists, there are some things that can’t be tolerated, and risking exposure to the Bug is one of them. Ben flies off in the Cherub only to discover that the nightmare attack that ruined the last community he was part of is about to start again. He needs to decide quickly if he will continue alone or rejoin a community.
I was most reminded of The Reapers are the Angels in atmosphere and theme. To me, atmosphere is a critical part of apocalypse/zombie books, and Khanna captures those elements beautifully. The setting is an interesting take in the genre; although it is at least a couple of generations post-disaster, there are some significant technological remnants of civilization as well as new cultural communities rising from the remainder of the old. The writing doesn’t quite soar to the Hemingway heights of Reapers, but it is appropriate for Ben. Writing is focused, with a pleasant variety of structure and vocabulary, making it above average in the field. A clever blend of flashback, dialogue and current action keeps the pace snappy while filling in details on character and world history.
Characterization is one of the standout aspects of this book. Khanna uses a single-narrator viewpoint through Ben, but still manages to convey a great deal of complexity to the main characters. It’s worth noting that there is a wide mix of people represented in the story, and neatly avoids the majority of genre tropes. Although I found I didn’t altogether like Ben, I found him far more tolerable than the equally selfish narrator of The Goldfinch, likely because he’s a person in progress.
Plotting is perhaps the weakest section of the story. I was carried along with the various events, noting a significant deus ex machina but not really caring, when the story was pleasantly sidetracked to an existence scenario. It is always interesting to experience the post-apocalypse world on those hardest of terms–the single forager–but the episode ended up resolving quickly and conveniently, moving Ben on to the next and more important section. There is a nice little genre twist, bringing an updated approach to the inhumanity of man. And the ending–whew. The ending was exceptionally brief, both in terms of emotional and plot resolution. While it opens the way to another story, it does end this one. More or less. I anticipate reviewer drama over this one. As an after thought, once I finished reading, a number logistical questions occurred to me. That could be a positive sign, in the sense I was still thinking about it, but it was also a negative one, as I realized a major decision didn’t make logical sense.
Regardless, it was a lot of fun, generally entertaining and worth the time. As a first novel, this was exceptional. But the $10.99 Kindle price? Now that, I’m no so sure–I’m glad this one was a library read. Overall, I recommend this for genre fans. As for myself, I’ll be on the lookout for more from Khanna.