Take a saunter around online reviews on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads for Stephen Moss’s Fear the Sky and you’ll find huge numbers of very positive reviews. The audio version has done extremely well in Audible’s charts. Yet more broadly the book is barely reviewed and indeed, it is self-published rather than having secured a conventional publisher.
Why this contrast? At its starkest, because the book has great ideas dreadfully written. I’m not exactly a paragon of grammatical exactitude. But it is not a hard job spotting many flaws in the writing. Badly structured sentences, poorly chosen paragraphs, cliched vocabulary, strange punctuation, numerous typographical errors: the list is a long one.
Yet the book also kept me reading because lurking in amongst the poor writing is a really promising idea and – the hugely uneven and at times rather weird pacing aside – even a rather good plot.
The tragedy is that with a first-rate editor this could easily have become a science-fiction classic. Instead, it’s flawed even whilst it remains very readable. Rather like a literary version of Pringles – extremely morish, not so nutritious.
The plot starts with a secret alien invasion and has some moments of real inventiveness both about how aliens might go about trying to invade and the military tactics required, and also about how economic and political influence can be deployed in response. Indeed, the book is commendably nuanced in its approach to political power. By contrast with, say, Isaac Asimov’s multiple award-winning The Gods Themselves, Stephen Moss’s depiction of scientists and politicians interacting is in a completely different – and better – class.
The range of characters and the depth of the plot are also commendable but in the end the flaws in the writing mean this is really one only for die-hard sci-fi fans with a love of technical military detail.
The audio version is better in many ways than the printed version because it lacks the amateurish typesetting of the latter and comes with an extremely professional and skilled narration by R.C. Bray.
If you are looking for something a little better written in a similar vein, take a look at Eric Frank Russell’s Wasp.