Earthshatter by Albert Nothlit (book review).

In a distant future on an earth-like planet that may or may not be the Earth, a city called Haven VII is suddenly over-run with rather large, ferocious, poisonous centipedes. They defeat the local militia and the combat robots of the local benevolent AI called Kyrios before killing every inhabitant, except for eight individuals who are saved by Kyrios and placed in suspended animation at a location outside of the city. They awaken in a bleak future where they have to survive and find the answers.

Earthshatter by Albert Nothlit (book review).
Earthshatter by Albert Nothlit (book review).

The premise sounds interesting with a couple of exceptions. There’s a good reason why we don’t see giant insects and it’s thought to be due to the way they breathe and the oxygen levels in the atmosphere. If you want bigger insects then you need more oxygen. In the late Paleozoic Era, atmospheric oxygen levels were at record highs and some insects evolved into giants. There were dragonflies with wingspans of about a meter for example. Even so, none of these giant insects would have had much impact on a metal combat robot. Anyway, let us suspend belief for a while and get back to the story.

The first few chapters deal with the events just prior to what will become known as ‘Night of the Swarm’. In each chapter, we meet one or two of the characters Kyrios is going to take an interest in. These lucky people will become known to us as the Captain, the Seer, the Sentry, the Messenger, the Engineer, the Alchemist, the Medic and the Stewardess in later chapters. Collectively, they are known as the crew. At least, that’s how Kyrios thinks of them.

After being resuscitated, our lucky heroes decide to head back to Haven VII to seek help and answers. At this point, they have no real information and no contact with Kyrios. What follows is a post-apocalyptic survival tale as the survivors meet up, scavenge for food and water while running and hiding from the centipedes. I think all of the crew members will say ‘Ew!’ at least once at one point or another and be disgusted by some aspect of the centipedes. It must be an American thing. They do make contact with one of Kyrios’ minions but ignore its advice for what struck me as rather implausible reasons.

Eventually, they do meet up with Kyrios who has set them a series of trials to see if they are worthy of being saved. Each trial is related to their given function (Captain, Seer, etc) so each trial is different and specific to one individual. If any one of them fails the trial, then all of the crew will die. This struck me as rather like the obstacles you have to overcome in a computer game before you get to the big showdown at the end.

I have to admit the trials were the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. Two main things hindered this book. Firstly, it is far too long with too much descriptive text. While it provides ambiance, it does not add anything to the central plot and so gets tedious after a while. A lot of it could be shortened or removed altogether without affecting the main story. This would leave room for development of the characters. Certainly, the Sentry could do with a bit more work as his actions on the Night of the Swarm would seem to be out of character.

The second thing is the inconsistencies in the story and world it depicts. Events prior to this story seem to have turned the landscape beyond the walls of the Haven VII into a barren, desolate rocky dessert. There is the exception of the black lake, which supports rough scrubland vegetation on its shore. There is no mention of any wildlife (birds, insects etc) but they do see a rat and a dog. What they are living on is anyone’s guess. One of the trials set by Kyrios would imply that it could foretell the future. Now if it can foretell the future, why is it surprised when it learns of the death of one of the characters? At the start of the book, one of the girls is waiting for her boyfriend to turn up. Later on, we discover that actually he had broken off the relationship several days before and had told her. So why was she waiting for him?

Behind all the goings on, there is an older back-story, which is where the Earthshatter comes into it. This appears to be an almost sentient virus intent on wrecking the world, although we are not given all the details in this book. This novel, ‘Earthshatter’, is setting the scene for a series of novels as Kyrios’ mind has devolved into separate entities that must be found and put back together again. There is even a prologue excerpt of the follow-on novel, ‘Light Shaper’. I know it is from the prologue but there is no continuity with the book you have just read. It reads like a completely different story in a different universe. This makes me wonder why they chose the prologue. Is it better than the main story?

There’s the seeds of a good story in ‘Earthshatter’ but it needs more work. Perhaps it will make more sense as the other novels in the series are published but that would require me to read them. I would have liked ‘Earthshatter’ to have made more sense now. At the moment, I’m not convinced that the series will be a read I want to undertake.

Andy Whitaker

April 2016

(pub: DSP Publications. 530 page paperback. Price: $19.99 (US), £17.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63476-824-5. 805 pages ebook. Price: $ 6.86 (US), £ 4.81 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-63476-825-2)

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