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Book Review: Pod by Stephen Wallenfels

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Pod is a book that surprised me. Armed with a fairly tried-and-true premise that has been covered many times over in many other arenas — both on and off the written page — Wallenfels’s book still manages to take the idea of alien invasion into an enjoyable direction, for the most part. We’ll get to that later, though, as by and large this is a book worth the time it takes to point out all the things I think it does “right” as opposed to the possible one or two things I think it could have handled otherwise.

From the very first, the thing I enjoyed most about Pod and the reason i want to encourage people to give it a read, was that it was a fairly well-written book. I’m being serious here. Nine times out of ten when you find yourself picking up a book where the plot is either that aliens have arrived and are whooping our butt, or that they have already whooped our butts, and NOW we must deal with the consequences in case they decide to return for an encore — they are often poorly written.

It seems as if the authors get so excited about the great idea of the story that they simply rushed to get it on the page instead of thinking the story through in terms that will reach out and get others interested and excited about the story. The most effective way to do that, at least when it comes to yours truly, is for there to be characters I can identify with and that are developed fully enough that I can share in their emotions and struggles and, if all goes well at some point in the story, their victories.

It’s not enough to have scary aliens and big explosions with lots of mayhem and death that wipes out billions and billions of people I don’t know or care about. Truth be told, you can get me to all those places with a handful of characters.

That, for the main part, is what the writer does in Pod. While set in circumstances that appear to reach across the entire world, our attention is focused mainly on two locations and two small sets of characters.

When the Pod arrives and starts basically deleting any and all humans that happen to be outside as well as any mode of mechanized transportation, we see that the only places left for anything to happen are “indoors.” That’s where we get down to the two main locations of the book.

We have Josh and his father (let’s not forget their trusty dog) who are now forced to live in their home and never risk venturing outside as well as Megs, who finds herself trapped in a parking lot in her mother’s car after her mother has left her alone to try and “earn” some money — so that mother and daughter can continue their road trip to someplace (anyplace) where they can drive.

From these two simple locations and simple sets of circumstances, Pod roams across scenes of despair, murder, apparent-suicide, kidnapping, cannibalism, confusion and just about any other emotion you could conceive. For the most part you are right there with the characters. When Megs is hiding in the car where her mother told her to “stay put” and you see the men wandering from car to car in the parking lot as they break into vehicles looking for anything of value (like food or water), you can actually feel the fear and see how vulnerable she is.

You can also feel the steel in this little girl as she resolves not to get caught and not to leave the car, as her mother might return.

When Josh tries to talk to his father about what might have happened to his mother as she was not home at the time of the Pod showing up and what that might mean, you can feel the stone wall of emotion the father throws out in defense as he completely disregards the questions and merely gets on with figuring out how to ration whatever supplies they have in the house so that they can stay alive…well, you can certainly empathize with either side of that desire.

And, as the book moves forwards, you are moved along with these characters — these people — as they venture out into the limited world they can move in. It all works. It’s not Tolstoy, y’know, but it’s enjoyable.

Until the end, that is…and that’s where my one and probably only gripe about this book comes into play. It’s not that the ending had me ranting and raving and throwing the book against the wall; it’s not that bad. I just…I feel as if it leaves way, way more unanswered than it even comes close to answering for me as well as making some of the traumatic things I’ve just viscerally gone through as I’ve made my way through the book…unnecessary.

Don’t break my heart if my heart doesn’t need to be broken, I suppose is what bugs me. Don’t make me jump through hoops and juggle nine chainsaws if, in the end, you’re going to tell me the hoops were just holograms and the chainsaws were made of marshmallow all the time…

I just… well, shoot. I guess what this all boils down to is that this is a really enjoyable book, and I want more, in the end, than what I was allowed to know. Hopefully this means that there might be a second book coming where I might ultimately get to that point where I’m content that the story comes full circle and I now understand why (A) had to happen so that we could get to (B) and then ultimately all the way to (Z).

Stephen Wallenfels’ Pod is a good book; a truly well-written and immensely readable and enjoyable book. It’s one that I think could have been a great book that helped push what a particular genre could be capable of, had it only given me just a little bit more… but the fact that I’m complaining that I didn’t get enough rather than I read it in the first place?

Maybe I was asking too much from a simple and wonderful summer read? I’d like to think if a summer read can make me want to ask more of it… then we can just call it a great “read” and leave off the “summer” part entirely.

Pod. Get it. Read it. Then, come back and tell me if I’m just being whiny and needing to find “something” wrong with a book because it makes me feel better about myself and my review…

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About Michael Jones

  • Ken

    **SPOILERS**

    I didn’t find this book as much to my liking. The plot did pick up and keep my interest in the second half, but mainly I kept reading just to find out why this all happened… then the ending was disappointing in that regard. I don’t mind having questions that are not explicitly answered, but give us some evidence to go on so we can make up our own minds. OK, so the aliens were cleaning the planet up and targeting people in particular. Still no idea where all the ‘deleted’ people are or what the large towers are for. Could the aliens be getting ready to let all the people out again to enjoy a spiffy new earth, or are they just getting ready to round up the last survivors and start parceling up the land for themselves? Unless I missed something, we are just left to make something up since there are no clues in the book other than hunches.

    The book only makes sense as a first book in a series, but I’m not sure this is the case. I’d recommend reading a better book instead.