Lurks in the Shadow of "The Shadow of Alpha" (3/5)
From January 5, 2012
Rear cover synopsis:
"Dorrin [sic] Parric is dead, and his son Orion has sworn to avenge him. But first he must run a gauntlet of human assassins, blood-crazed androids and aging, paranoid dictators. Petty tyrants rule the few straggling settlements where mankind holds out against the darkness. Time and again Parric eludes the strange traps set for him by the forces of decay. But his luck is running out. At the end of the road is Philayork, a bewildering metropolis wracked by far and evil. Whatever had killed Orion Parric's father was also waiting for him in the ruins of earth's last great city."
The Shadow of Alpha set the stage of the apocalypse, where humans died by the millions and the human that did live were hunted down by the crazed androids, which the Plaguewind altered. The only sanctuaries left to humans were force-field reinforced domes and the remote enclaves of well-armed Hunters. Orion's father Dorin set upon a mission with William Dix (the same unaffected android friend of Franklin Parric) to visit the once grand city of Philayork to see what was left of humanity and its once miraculous technologies. However, Franklin was killed in mysterious circumstances and was carried back to Central by Dix. Orion has taken it upon himself to seek out the same city and murder the man who spilled his father's blood.
The synopsis is a tad extreme, highlighting the action sequences when in reality, the novel is written with an interest in exploring what has happened to the world outside the protective dome of Central. Grant writes of how nature has recovered from the Plaguewind and how humans must herd flocks of birds to their fields of grain in order to control the insects. He also explores the ruins of Philayork, where windows have been shattered, moving walkways have been torn up, stores of food have been ransacked, and heaps of clothing mark the place where people have died in situ. While his descriptions aren't as vivid as what my imagination has concocted for the year 2247 A.D., he gets the message across that the world has taken an ugly turn for the worse. While there aren't' many "human assassins" and
blood-crazed androids" found in the 220 pages, the action which does take place is often the duck-and-shoot kind of action... nothing worth mentioning.
Characterization was weak in the prior novel, but Grant seems to have taken in interest in developing his characters in Ascension. Orion is a bitter man, always on the edge of an angry outburst whose rage sometimes gets the bets of him: "The dispassionate manner of their conversation grated, an impersonal abrasive that made him want to grab for the nearest tree and yank it out by the roots." (25) He also has an internal sense of sarcasm which grates him into stinging internal dialogue: "...no supplications for libations for Parric's godlike intrusion. The voice was dead. Rising from a dead space." (21)
One problem with The Shadow of Alpha was that the spaceship Alpha was only ever mentioned in passing; no detail of the mission or the importance ever cropping up. Alpha became a symbol of hope for Franklin Parric, establishing within himself a need to resurrect humanity for the return of the crew of Alpha. Likewise, Orion Parric maintains Franklin's desire to rid humanity of its barbarous ways so that the crew of Alpha can return to a civilized society. While this symbol of hope continues, so does the absence of any explanation of what Alpha is or what it was sent out to do.
Ascension is an interesting contrast to The Shadow of Alpha but, like its predecessor, it may have set a pretty good scene but failed to really create a plot which ties in directly to the lumbering giant which is mentioned in both books- The Alpha. A series isn't really a series when sequences, characters, and objects are chronologically separated and nearly forgotten about. Book three of the series (according to ISFDB) is also the last... Legion. How will Grant organize his sequences, characters, and objects to culminate into a finale?