Defenders (book, Will McIntosh, 2014)


A review from #SFX249.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

Author: Will McIntosh

Publisher: Orbit

482pp

Genetically engineered pudding

When telepathic “starfish” aliens invade Earth, humanity is in big trouble. Our only hope is the genetically engineered defenders, created to have unreadable minds. But what do you do with a new race created for war when that war is done?

Defenders reminds us of Robopocalypse by Daniel H Wilson and other, similar tales – a terrible threat, civilisation overthrown, a plucky band of characters who are gradually drawn together, the chapters headed with their names and time-stamped.

But Defenders is a fairly unexceptional example of both the alien invasion and apocalyptic subgenres. Firstly, it’s predictable. Indeed, the first twist, of the defenders turning on their creators, is heavily hinted at in the cover blurb, but it’s not very surprising when the starfish ally with their original enemies either. There’s plenty of handwavium on display too – the aliens can read our minds because, well, serotonin; humanity’s only defence against the starfish, whose invasion starts off very low-key, is to create an entirely new race from scratch at the 11th hour, using technologies that are poorly understood; while the starfish’s motives for aggression are not terribly believable.

None of this would matter too much if this were a gripping invasion story, but it is not. It seems to be setting itself up to make a point, but the intellectual content is paper-thin, while the war part of it pedestrian. McIntosh writes well, and his characters are great, but ultimately it’s not enough.

Did you know?

Will McIntosh won the Hugo Award for his short story “Bridesicle” in 2009.