Friday, 12 October 2012

And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst

And All the Stars is the first novel I've read by Andrea K Höst, self-published Australian author. I usually only read self-published books by authors previously known to me — there are so many books out there, one has to filter somehow. However, Höst caught my eye because I remembered her being the first self-published author to be shortlisted for an Aurealis Award (last year, for the 2010 award). The shortlisting is a pretty good indication that her writing doesn't suck. Add that to science fiction element and I was sold. My copy of And All the Stars was provided by the author through Netgalley.

The novel opens with an apocalyptic alien invasion. Spires, piercing the ground, appear in many large cities around the world, including Sydney where our protagonist, Madeline, lives. Madeline survives the impact of the spire piercing the train station she was just leaving only to be infected by the mysterious alien dust the spires belched out. The dust gives her, and those others who survive the infection, blue (or green) patches of skin and some super powers. Then the invasion begins in earnest.

When I first read the blurb I wondered whether it might bear some resemblance to The Orphans Trilogy by Sean Williams and Shane Dix because of the spires, but it didn't even a little bit. If anything it was more like Tomorrow When the War Began but with aliens and Sydney instead of foreigners and a small country town. Particularly with the teenagers versus the invaders theme.

Madeline starts off coping with the invasion alone, but that doesn't last long. She soon meets Noi, an apprentice chef, and they quickly team up with some boys from a boarding school who'd had the presence of mind to get organised after people got sick and started dying from the dust.

There is a lot to like about And All the Stars. The writing is strong and tight, the characters are delightfully varied, including a diversity of cultures and sexualities representative of modern Australia. I particularly liked the part where Höst took into account that many boarding school kids would be rich international students since the rich local students don't need to board. It has a realistic (read: slightly embarrassing) first-time sex scene, something which is often avoided in YA or over-idealised if it isn't. Although the science fictional element surrounding the aliens is on the soft side (their powers might as well be magic, although fields and electricity are mentioned), the methodology of the characters in working out how all the new stuff works is rigorously scientific.

The aliens were alien. Not little green men, but something more strange and other. Their actions were mysterious at first but, by the end when their motivations were known, they weren't so baffling as to be completely incomprehensible.

The setting — modern Sydney — also reflects real modern technology. A bunch of people die when the aliens come, but the survivors tweet information to each other and use youtube to share videos of useful things. Some TV news services keep going and the electricity stays on. Just because an apocalypse is in progress, doesn't mean that society collapses immediately. It takes time for our infrastructure to run out of resources or break down. It was nice to see aliens not arbitrarily disable everything for flimsy reasons.

I was concerned while I was reading that this would be the first book in a trilogy or series but it was entirely self contained. Which was a relief not because I wanted it to be over, but because I'm sick of stories needlessly drawn out into trilogies.

And All the Stars was a solidly good YA book. I recommend it to science fiction readers as well as fans of YA. I'll definitely some of the author's other books to my mental TBR pile.

5 / 5 stars

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