The Blurb (from Goodreads):
It's a decade from now and the human race is dying. Plants, animals and humans have been infected by spores from space and become part of a vast alien intelligence.
When 16-year-old Callie discovers her little sister Gracie has been infected, she flees with Gracie to the Zone to avoid termination by the ruthless officers of Quarantine. What Callie finds in the Zone will alter her irrevocably, and send her on a journey to the stars and beyond.
James Bradley is one of the most thoughtful, bold and unpredictable writers working in Australia right now. I loved his novel Wrack, about an archaeologist who is searching for the 400-year-old wreck of a Portuguese ship off the coast of New South Wales, but finds the body of a murdered man instead. It’s not a crime novel, though it has a mystery at its heart. It’s not a romance though it’s about love. It’s a difficult, genre-transcending book about cruelty and loss and longing. His novel The Resurrectionist was a dark and surprising exploration of grave robbers in Victorian England. His novella, Beauty's Sister, is the story of Rapunzel told from the point of her darker, wilder sister Juniper. It’s powerful, unexpected and rather sinister. Then there’s Clade (which I’ve not read yet) but which is described as a near-future novel about the effects of climate change which disrupts expected narrative structures.
The key words here are surprising, genre-transcending, unexpected, disruptive.
I really love boldness and unpredictability in a writer, because it’s a quality that requires nerves of steel and a strong sense of one’s creative vision. So many writers find themselves scurrying in a mouse-wheel of market expectations, churning out one similar book after another, second-guessing what readers want, caught up in competing for the ephemera of prizes, grants, bestseller lists, review inches. To write what inspires and excites you, to test boundaries and expectations, to stretch your creative muscles to straining point and beyond – that takes courage, and James Bradley has it in spades.
He is also a beautiful writer, elegant and restrained.
So I was drawn to reading James Bradley’s new dystopian novel for young adults, The Silent Invasion, not because I like YA dystopia (I don’t really), but because I admire his writing and I was interested to see what he’d do with the conventions of this rather over-crowded genre.
The story is told from the point-of-view of sixteen-year-old Callie. She lives in the near-future, at a time when the world has become infected with the spores of some kind of alien intelligence. The first signs are phosphorus on the skin, a strange glow in the eyes. Anyone showing signs of being infected is taken away by Quarantine officers. No-one knows where, or what happens to them. Callie’s own father – a scientist studying the spores – was taken away, and now Callie is being looked after by her step-mother and her boyfriend. She loves her little sister Gracie deeply, and when it becomes clear Gracie has been infected, Callie does her best to save her.
It’s a race against time. Callie is chasing rumours and speculations that there is a safe place, a Zone, where Gracie will be safe. They meet a boy, also running, and a clever and relentless Quarantine officer determined to stop them, and various people, some kind, some unspeakably cruel. It’s intense, fast-paced, politically aware, and heart-breaking. Callie is tough and yet vulnerable, intelligent and yet prone to impulse, loving but still afraid to surrender herself to love. And the writing is as beautiful and thoughtful as I hoped for. So many writers for teenagers sacrifice lyricism for pace. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a perfectly turned sentence has its own unstoppable force:
‘Sometime deep in the night the moon rose, and for a time I lay staring up at it and the great girdle of the Milky Way. Its brightness stretched from horizon to horizon, and I imagined myself falling upwards, leaving all of this behind and losing myself in its light. Once we had dreamed of travelling to the stars, of becoming explorers; now we scrabbled and fought to survive. What else lay out there, I found myself wondering. Were there other worlds, other possibilities? Or was this all there was, this chaos and fear and sense we were running from something we could not outrun? At some point I realised I was crying; surprised at myself, I tried to wipe my face, but the tears kept coming.’
The Silent Invasion reminded me of some of the great science fiction books of my own adolescence. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I hope it strikes as strong a chord.