Left with ideas to pon­der

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Culture - Re­view by D.L. PHILIPS star2@thes­tar.com.my

THERE’S a lot to parse in the setup for The

Evap­o­ra­tion Of Sofi Snow, the first book in a new young adult fic­tion duol­ogy from Mary We­ber. Fight­ing teenagers, aliens from outer space, and cor­po­ra­tions that aren’t just peo­ple, they’re na­tions! Add to this one mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance and one ap­par­ent death dur­ing a hor­rific bomb ex­plo­sion, and you’ve got a pretty dense book.

But at its heart, Sofi Snow is about re­la­tion­ships be­tween sib­lings, friends and strangers. There’s an awe­some story here, al­beit one that’s chok­ing on in­con­sis­ten­cies. We­ber, a best­selling writer known for her

Storm Siren fan­tasy tril­ogy, branches out into a fu­ture tech, post-post-apoc­a­lyp­tic fu­ture in

Sofi Snow. Planet Earth has en­dured World War III and IV, with the fourth com­ing to an end af­ter the sud­den ap­pear­ance of an ex­trater­res­trial species – heck, an en­tire alien planet – in our so­lar sys­tem!

With their ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, the Delonese have brought hu­mankind’s lat­est con­flict to a stop. They’ve even cor­rected our global warm­ing prob­lem and ush­ered in a pe­riod of peace on Earth that sees the dis­so­lu­tion of na­tion states, fol­lowed by the rise of the United World Cor­po­ra­tions.

Part of the en­ter­tain­ment and prod­uct test­ing put on by the cor­po­ra­tions is a glob­ally tele­vised com­pe­ti­tion among teams of teens fielded by spe­cific cor­po­ra­tions, who bat­tle it out for fame and for­tune in the Fan­tasy Fight­ing Games. Sound fa­mil­iar?

Any­way, th­ese teams have coders like Sofi Snow who work be­hind the scenes, busily pro­gram­ming and de­ploy­ing vir­tual zom­bies and gi­gan­tic worms that the on-cam­era team mem­bers can de­ploy – team mem­bers like Sofi’s brother Shilo, who per­form in front of the cam­eras fight­ing for their vir­tual lives to the de­light of au­di­ences ev­ery­where.

Hav­ing worked in tech­nol­ogy, I’m pos­i­tive we’re mil­len­nia away from coders be­ing able to write the per­fect code and re­lease it with­out any qual­ity as­sur­ance test­ing be­fore­hand. How­ever, this is fic­tion, so we’ll do as We­ber says, sus­pend dis­be­lief and jump on this wagon.

So in Sofi’s world, so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers have long re­placed ac­tual jour­nal­ists as they cover the games and other news for their fans. Not too many steps ahead of what we have in the real world now when you think about it, as com­pa­nies al­ready have In­sta­gram­mers with tons of fol­low­ers shilling cor­po­rate prod­ucts in their feeds.

The fi­nal layer on top com­prises the in­ter­ga­lac­tic life-forms and their tech­nol­ogy. The Delonese ap­peared at the height of WWIV when their planet metic­u­lously tele­ported into our cos­mic neigh­bour­hood. Their ar­rival was so pre­cise that it al­lowed their world to be put in a syn­chro­nous or­bit around Earth but be­yond our moon so as not to dis­rupt our tides and weather sys­tems.

The­mys­ter­ies­se­tupby Sofi Snow aren’t Agatha Christie cal­i­bre, so a few of the twists are easy to spot. Per­haps the story would have been served bet­ter if We­ber had trimmed the fat off her next novel and con­densed her story into one book. But it’s an en­joy­able read, none­the­less.

Ev­ery chap­ter flips back and forth be­tween Sofi and Miguel, a young His­panic man who’s also her for­mer love in­ter­est. Ah yes, the dreaded YA fic­tion “In­stalove” hap­pened off-page. Hav­ing two leads be per­sons of colour is a re­fresh­ing choice. Alas, Sofi and Miguel haven’t spo­ken since he left her for rea­sons he never clearly ar­tic­u­lates.

But Sofi has to eat crow and ask her ex for help, be­cause of her deep bond with her brother which drives her to do all she can to get to the bot­tom of Shiloh’s dis­ap­pear­ance – or death, as the rest of the world in­sists even if Sofi isn’t con­vinced.

How­ever, at the out­set, we know there’s some­thing “off” about Miguel, the youngest of the am­bas­sadors Earth has cho­sen to li­aise with the Delonese. And for the ma­jor­ity of the story, our male pro­tag­o­nist could either be a pae­dophile or just a re­ally big jerk.

We­ber is known for her cliffhanger end­ings in Storm Siren, and Sofi Snow has more of the same. It’s de­light­fully frus­trat­ing that though the story is writ­ten in third per­son, just as we think a ma­jor se­cret is about to be re­vealed, the chap­ter ends and a new POV be­gins.

This drip feed­ing of de­tails makes Sofi Snow an ab­so­lute page-turner. There are stops and starts to the nar­ra­tive, but the book leaves us a lot of de­li­cious ideas to ru­mi­nate on – how we treat our fam­ily, friends, even peo­ple we don’t know. And how would our World Or­der change if an ad­vanced ET civil­i­sa­tion re­vealed it­self to us to­mor­row?

Author: Mary We­ber Pub­lisher: Thomas Nel­son, young adult sci­ence fic­tion The Evap­o­ra­tion Of Sofi Snow

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