About the Book
Ben Gold lives in dangerous times. Two generations ago, a virulent disease turned the population of most of North America into little more than beasts called Ferals. Some of those who survived took to the air, scratching out a living on airships and dirigibles soaring over the dangerous ground.
Ben has his own airship, a family heirloom, and has signed up to help a group of scientists looking for a cure. But that’s not as easy as it sounds, especially with a power-hungry air city looking to raid any nearby settlements. To make matters worse, his airship, the only home he’s ever known, is stolen. Ben must try to survive on the ground while trying to get his ship back.
This brings him to Gastown, a city in the air recently conquered by belligerent and expansionist pirates. When events turn deadly, Ben must decide what really matters–whether to risk it all on a desperate chance for a better future or to truly remain on his own.
255 pages (trade paperback)
Published on Oct 7, 2014
Published by Pyr
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This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.
Huge thanks to Paul Weimer for taking the time out of his busy life to write this review for me.
Falling Sky combines a lean narrative with an all-too-topical plague to provide a strongly grounded character focused story.
Zombie narratives fall into a couple of different categories and buckets depending on the focus of the writer. For example, zombieism can be seen as a metaphor, depending on the type of zombieism. The kind of zombie story where your family, friends and neighbors turn to zombies before your eyes can be seen as a metaphor for Alzheimers and Dementia, losing someone you love and care about right before your eyes. This is, for me, part of the absolute horror of zombies. For all of its humor, the movie Shaun of the Dead, especially in its denouement, is this kind of zombie story.
Falling Sky’s zombie story metaphors are somewhat different. For all that, given its topicality, it was extremely chilling and topical for me. The plague that creates Ferals, and that they still carry, is a blood-borne close-contact illness. Ben, and other characters throughout the novel are extremely concerned, to the point of an understandable neurosis, about physical contact with the ferals at any point. The transmission of bodily fluids is a deadly thing in Falling Sky’s world, to the point where it warps even sexual relations between characters. But more to the point, the recent news about the Ebola outbreak, and its transmission by similar means, meant that for me, hearing news on the outbreak cast my mind back to the novel, and similarly, I found myself thinking, chillingly, of the Ebola outbreak every time the ferals come on screen in the novel.
The novel is lean and mean, which is on occasion a double edged sword. The pull quote from Tad Williams on the cover “Hemingway meets the Walking Dead” is not as hyperbolic as one might think–the writing is sparse to the point of aridity. Worldbuilding comes at an exceedingly light touch, and always married to character. We never find out where some of the key locations physically are or are even described particularly well. The locations do not leap off of the page and become fully fleshed worlds to explore. The narrative only focuses on a location when it matters to the characters, especially Ben, and even then its parsimoniously parceled out. The writing goes into Ben’s head, and the motivations and actions of Ben instead (the novel likes to use flashbacks in this regard). I think this stylistic choice strength that occasionally undercuts the mise-en-scene of the novel. This is not a world to immerse oneself in.
Overall, the writing style and talent of the author is quite effective in making Falling Sky work. More to the point it makes the novel rather different than most zombie stories. In the same way that Mira Grant’s Feed is hardly a typical zombie plague novel with its focus on politics, Falling Sky, with its writing style and concerns, should not be confused with the typical zombie novel. And for me, that’s a good thing.