What would your life look like if you were harboring alien fugitives?
And what if those fugitives were literal aliens living inside your body?
This is what Monique "Moni" Williams has to deal with in Brian Bandell's new book, Silence the Living, published September 10, 2018, by Silver Leaf Books. The only thing keeping these nano-sized infectious alien invaders at bay is Moni's mind, and body. It’s not easy trying to save the world when even one drop of your bodily fluid could destroy everything.
Bandell is no rookie writer. Silence the Living is his third novel and the second of this series. The sci-fi concept is unique (at least to me) and interesting, the characters and their motivations are clear, the pacing and action well-done.
As always, let's talk about some of the interesting themes in this book.
Alien Nanotech in the Human Body
Let's begin with the obvious. Aliens in your body! I enjoyed this concept a lot. It's one of those premises that has a lot to work with already built in. It's extremely dramatic, and, of course, a HUGE problem. One thing I appreciated in Bandell's writing here were all his details about how this virus affects Moni and the great lengths she must go to in order to keep it contained in her body.
This is just one example, but Bandell clearly thought through these kinds of details. Not only that, but they make for a well-rounded story problem.
In addition, during the course of the novel, Moni loses more and more of her humanity as she struggles with the aliens taking her over. It's a sacrifice for the greater good, but is it worth it? This is one question I came back to several times while reading the novel.
The police officers trying to hunt down Moni in order to contain the alien virus have more than one bone to pick with her. Officer Nina Skillings in particular wants revenge for her fallen comrades, driving her hunt for Moni. Revenge is an interesting theme because it's so visceral and emotional a thing. It's an excellent story driver and also gets us thinking, is this really just about revenge?
On that note, in my interview with Bandell next week I’ll be asking him about some of the military and police details he included. They seemed quite realistic and added even more tension to the story.
Strong Female Lead
I love a strong female lead. Moni is tough but soft, trying to do the right thing but not afraid to make hard decisions. She loves her planet and people, and is willing to sacrifice everything to save them. Well, almost everything. After all, she’s only human like the rest of us…mostly.
In our current moment, we’re seeing many novels with strong female leads. Personally, I find it refreshing. Especially since I’m reading My List chronologically, and back in the day all protagonists were male.
I appreciate clear characters in novels. By this I mean, characters whose motivations are clear and who always act in alignment with who they've been set out to be. Once I started paying attention to this aspect of storytelling, I started to see ad hoc characterizations everywhere. But Bandell's characters are all clear in their wants and needs. Every action, every bit of dialogue is in alignment with who that character is.
In a few places this gets a little one-sided. However, I'm not sure if that's because more character development happened in the first novel of this series. Silence the Living works as a standalone novel as well, in my opinion, but this was really the one area that I felt could have been improved.
Funny enough, at one point when I was thinking that a particular character was a bit one-sided, on the very next page Bandell offered some backstory. I thought, touché!
Strengths and Weaknesses
Silence the Living offers a unique plot and problem, and an exciting story that kept me turning the page. Bandell is a writer who understands the bones of a story and story construction, and, of course, he provides the imagination on top of that.
As mentioned above, at some points a few of the secondary characters seemed a little one-dimensional. But this could very well be because I haven't read the first book in the series. I'm sure it's hard to continue developing characters in a series without seeming repetitive. But overall I enjoyed the characters and the fact that they were so well-defined. That by itself is hard to achieve.
If you're looking for a new science fiction novel, I recommend Silence the Living. It's an exciting, unique page-turner. I’m glad I got the opportunity to review this book!
Stay tuned for my post next week, in which I'll be interviewing Bandell himself about Silence the Living.