Sometimes I read a story and think that the author must have spent a lot of time watching television and/or movies. Often, this is for a bad reason but it doesn't have to be. I watch a lot of television too and if I tell the story about Return of the Jedi being the first movie I ever saw at the theater one more time I may be murdered. I've loved going to movies ever since and now I've got Netflix. I mention this because Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings has a television style feel to it. I really did feel more like I was watching this on television than reading it at times. It has similar pacing and dramatic draws as a full hour episode of something fun minus the commercials. Come to think about it, Ryn Lilley seems to be encouraging my Netflix addiction without trying to. That's okay because I enjoyed the book.
The first three books in the series are known as Season One, so I'm thinking that this is intentional. As a matter of fact, I actually went looking to see if there was a television series of the same name. I couldn't find one on the American version of Amazon, but this book was sent in by Dave Freer. He lives in Australia so maybe it is a show there. Then again, maybe not too. I've never been to Australia so I'm not going to claim to know anything about their television shows.
Part of the reason I say that this feels like a TV show is because of the way it starts. In a way it feels almost like an episode of Doogie Howser. Seriously. The book starts with a series of emails going back and forth to set the scene. We get to know the characters a bit and then it all drops in the pot and things go from scary to bad to worse in something like two minutes of camera time. The acceleration curve is steep.
This book, like many others admittedly, has a tendency to flash back and forth between point of view characters rather quickly. I'm a big fan of this kind of thing. George RR Martin and Harry Turtledove both come to mind. Lilley uses the technique effectively, yet I can't quite get over the fact that it feels like there is a director outside switching scenes and soundstages. I kept waiting for jump cuts. It was a lot of fun and kind of took me back to a class I took called Intro to Film. I kept trying to picture the camera angles.
The main character is a teenage boy who owns a computer/Artificial Intelligence with a nagging problem. He needs to get his homework done and the thing will not leave him alone. It's just as he gets it done and decides to head off to the other side of the asteroid that he lives on that things get interesting... and he ends up waking up somewhere he'd rather not be. The inhabitants of his new planet aren't human and their medical technology is not up to snuff and it just gets crazier from there. I really started to feel for the kid.
At one point the book cuts to either another planet or another part of the same planet. Things got a little hazy for me here. Here we meet a gladiator, imprisoned for a crime and forced to fight for his life. Things don't work out for his captors as he fights better than he is supposed to. He eventually manages to get himself freed but only because there is a war coming and his descendants will prove useful to the war effort. Apparently he has strong genes and is therefore useful as breeding stock. He is given a leadership position and then... the book ends. Left unclear is whether the war will be against humanity, or the planet where our heroes are, or somewhere else. Also unclear is how the humans in the book relate to this whole thing.
This is where the sensation of watching a TV show gets even stronger. Lost Beginnings has a lot of similarities to the first episode of Farscape, including the part where nothing is resolved and we're left with more questions than answers. There is a sequel out so I guess we'll get some there. Of course, that has the potential to lead to more questions, which will lead to another sequel... Yeah, that seems to be the way good SF is trending right now. I won't complain.
Lost Beginnings could have been longer. Things move really quickly and it would have been beneficial to see some more details added. I didn't count the words in this one, but I read it on my phone and I went through it in no time. It wasn't very long at all. What was there was definitely enjoyable, but I really wish there was more. Answering a few more of the questions brought up by the story would have been helpful as well.
It did take a little longer for this book to really get started than I wanted it to. The emails, the typical disagreements with parents were useful as lead in material, but I prefer an opening that just explodes from the page. We've all seen the opening to Episode IV right? The one where the Star Destroyer comes out of nowhere and starts firing on the Rebel ship? That type of opening is missing here and I would have preferred to see something in that vein rather than dragging the beginning out. Those are minor things though and other than that the book was really good. I would seriously like to see this on my TV at some point. I think it has that kind of potential.
Bottom Line: 4.25 out of 5 alien artifacts.
Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings
Snapping Turtle, 2014
Underground Episode One: Lost Beginnings is available for purchase here:
The Entire First Season of Underground is also available here: