In a novel whose course spans roughly fifty years, author Philip Chen takes us into a world of intrigue, violence, and deep sea diving. These seemingly incongruous elements unite to tell a story of aliens, in more than one sense of the word.
It all began with an anomalous magnetic signal. From there, the situation expanded quickly, drawing in multiple acronym-plagued departments, too many officers to count, and a great amount of confusion, thus eliciting a combination of paranoia and justified concern on the part of the United States government. Chen's story is well thought-out, the many layers of conspiracy a clever merging of the political and the fantastical.
Chen appears to draw upon many of his own experiences in this work, as evidenced by the technical minutiae provided for every underwater vessel, as well as the similarity in background between his education and ethnicity and those of his protagonist, Aloysius "Mike" Liu. In spite of this connection, however, Chen evenly distributes his focus between several key players and avoids focusing solely on the experiences of one. This enriches the storyline by encompassing multiple arenas in which important action is occurring.
Unfortunately, there were in fact too many characters introduced over the course of the book. Many of them had intricate backgrounds, which detracted from the story by giving the reader too many things to take in at once. Most of the characters we are told about only appear for one or two scenes, after which they vanish, save for a brief reference later that was nice as a tie-in but not wholly necessary to make the novel work. This book might have benefited from having the spotlight focused on the central characters, with dimmer lighting for what is essentially the background.
Perhaps what contributed to the confusion was my distraction by several writing ticks. The author has the tendency to repeat himself, such as restating the subject in every sentence within the same paragraph. This proved to be grating, though thankfully, there were whole sections of text in which this habit did not make an appearance. In their place was the frequent misuse (or lack of use) of commas, semicolons, colons, and long dashes. Between the punctuation problems, the redundancies, and the repeated use of "Suburban's" as the plural form of "Suburban" (the vehicle) I nearly put this book down at less than a third of the way through. The slowness of the beginning did not help.
Thankfully, I plowed on, and while the writing remained as it ever was, the plot did improve considerably. Though I maintain that the first thirty percent or so of the work could have easily been summarized elsewhere, the rest of it moves in an action-packed method that eventually drew me into piecing together the puzzle alongside CSAC. I did have to pause many times due to the plethora of unnecessary details, such as the exact type of guns that each of a dozen gunmen were holding. At times, I felt as if I were reading either a movie script or a technical manual or, on occasion, a character's résumé. Even so, this may appeal to readers with a greater interest in weaponry than I possess.
Falling Star has a lot of potential — the storyline is interesting and original, and it is set up quite nicely for a sequel. The manuscript could stand a few more revisions, however, both for errors and to reduce the amount of extraneous data.
(Review copy provided by the author)