Geoff Nelder, co-editor of Escape Velocity magazine and the award-winning science fiction author of Escaping Reality and Exit, Pursued by a Bee:
I am a sucker for apocalyptic stories. Even if the SF academic Brian Stableford thinks they are old hat and all been done, the success of Armageddon, 28 Days Later and The Day After Tomorrow illustrates that the public wants more. Not that Gray Apocalypse is really apocalyptic. There is no experience, dystopian or utopian, of Earth after the impending asteroid event. Instead we are treated to how a government could keep an awful secret from society for 60 years. It wouldn’t be easy in a freedom-of-information democracy such as the USA, but Murdoch makes the scenario believable. In many ways the book is a kind of conspiracy theory and although it is fiction, I find myself looking up wondering if that 99942 Apophis asteroid on its way to us in 2029 need not hurl itself around the sun for a go at us in 2036 but have its course altered for a direct hit.
In this novel aliens pick on Earth, presumably because of its suitable environment–global warming and pollution notwithstanding–to create millions of hybrids to populate the planet once life above the surface is obliterated by the steered asteroid.
The notion of governments financing secret security forces with powers above the police and regular army is not new, but the reason for their existence in Gray Apocalypse is. The protagonist, Michael Kendon, is a kind of James Bond, but he has no glittery lifestyle. Indeed he has such obstacles to overcome that the reader would be forgiven for closing the book and thinking: that’s it, there’s no hope. However, not only is Kendon superbly cunning, he has psychic and healing powers, and the skills of an assassin. Like many humans in Murdoch’s Earth, aliens have inserted a device in his head to enable tracking of ‘difficult’ people. A do-it-yourself operation with the help of a dentist at gunpoint in a tourist attraction mens room will send you under the bedclothes. Blood curdlingly written. Perhaps Kendon is a little too good and the story might have been more believable without his psychic / healing powers, but the plot rips along with an easy read.
There are some literary moments such as ‘The sun had fallen in a blaze into the sea.’ This is reflective of the premise with the impending asteroid–a neat touch. With an opposite image of that blaze we have: ‘Kendon struggled against the seduction of darkness.’ Oh haven’t we all been there? Shut our eyes and let sleep occupy our consciousness instead of coping with reality. Kendon succeeds to stay on top, but sometimes only just. The conflicts stretch the tension all the way to the end.
With the exception of a brief insight into the mind of one of the aliens during the final moments, the plot unravels through the experience of humans. One of the humans is under alien control so we have glimpses of his personality. It might be just me, but I’d like to have been inside the head of one of the aliens long enough to follow their reasoning and feelings about what they are doing to Earth and its in situ population.
In a spooky bat cave scene, Kendon alludes to this when he realizes that by his unavoidable destruction of the bats’ habitat, he mirrors what the aliens and their asteroid intend to do to humans. We are told several times of the existence of clones and of millions of hybrids. I’d like to know what they are thinking, how they experience their existence, even if it lacks the richness of humans. In a way the story isn’t finished. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but whether the asteroid hits Earth, is destroyed or deflected we have the future to come. Surviving humans in bunkers or just fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, would have to consider their future. Implants or not there would be other Kendons who’d fight back. If the asteroid is deflected, then a battle would be won but not the war. Either way Murdoch has scope for a sequel.
For any aficionado of apocalyptic stories, this cinematic tale must be on their shelves.
Doug Porter for the Daily Kos and OBrag.org:
There are a plethora of conspiracy theories out there centered on aliens, UFOs and the government’s role in suppressing the “truth” about those things. Gray Apocalypse successfully weaves several of the more popular theories/legends into a sci-fi page burner with just enough credibility to inspire nightmares. Treading cagily in the zone between the pit of deep-seated fears and the summit of knowledge, the author opens us up to what the world might look like if the UFO/alien conspiracies were true.
Starting with “West Coast Air Raid” of early 1943, when a UFO was spotted over Los Angeles and over 1400 rounds of anti aircraft artillery were fired, authorities have struggled to present plausible explanations for phenomena that seem to have no rational basis. The discovery (and allegations of a subsequent military cover-up) of UFO remains near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 encouraged a cottage industry of self appointed investigators who have generated a gaggle of theories about extraterrestrial beings and their relationships with the planet Earth. The realm of conspiracy theories about these affairs (to quote Rod Sterling in a different context) is “a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity.”
The conspiracy theories arising from these (and other) incidents have steadily worked their way into the popular culture, spawning television shows like Stargate SG-1 and the X-Files. The common thread that they all possess is the assertion that government(s) are secretly cooperating with extraterrestrials. One very familiar conjecture even has large eyed gray aliens regularly abducting humans for experiments aboard spaceships.
Gray Apocalypse posits that the Roswell incident was actually the beginning of decades of conspiracies between governments and extraterrestrials, relationships that traded access to alien technologies while allowing genetic experimentation aimed at creating a hybrid race that would rule the planet.
The story begins as the stage is being set for the final preparations for Earth to accept the dominion of the hybrid race. Human collaborators are to be spared in underground facilities as the surface of the planet is sanitized. (DO click on the “sanitized” link; it’s a fantastic video, complete with Pink Floyd sound track. And, yes, it’s relevant to the plot of the book.)
There’s just one person standing between The Breeder Grays in their quest for domination, renegade assassin and sole survivor of a crushed resistance movement, Michael Kendon. Set in the realm of covert operations and black helicopters, the race to save the planet takes the reader on a whirlwind adventure leading to a dramatic final encounter. Once you get comfortable with the premises of the book, it’s a damned good adventure story.
The spookiest part of all this UFO conspiratorial stuff (and this novel) is that there are just enough glimmers of the real world (as evidenced by our government’s own intelligence adventures) to keep you wondering.
Georganna Hancock for Blogcritics Magazine:
Calling all X-Philes, Zonies, Peaks Freaks, conspiracy theorists and science fiction lovers. This heart-pounding extra-exciting thriller offers the best of the weirdness tossed about in the Twilight Zone, Tales from the Darkside, X-Files and all the other books, movies, and TV series of the paranormal and the really “out there” offerings. In Gray Apocalypse James Murdoch spins out the tale, but never out of control, in a well-written extension of some of the mainline madness that has so entertained sci-fi and horror fans for the last 40 years.
Just imagine Skully and Mulder’s ETs mating with humans, building an army, and controlling the heavens. Sounds like they are the gods of Greek mythology or angels of the Old Testament, doesn’t it? And that’s exactly how the Breeders view themselves. We see them through the mind of Michael Kendon, a renegade resistance fighter with paranormal powers. One such ability is to tune in on the thoughts of the master race. This is the only flaw I found in the fast-paced plot that doesn’t flag from first to last. Mind-reading these “gods” is a deus ex machina ripped right out of Euripides’ plays; however, it isn’t a fatal flaw because, after all, this is sci-fi.
Gray Apocalypse could also be considered a horror story if gray-skinned, big-eyed, long-armed aliens in huge flying saucers give you pause. Or if you find the idea of breeding with such beings repulsive, or the notion of cloning nauseates you and brings up fear. It’s the ultimate outsiders’ plot to destroy most humans with an engineered celestial event.
The non-stop action takes place in two locations, the American Southwest and on a promontory in Puerto Rico. It features not just one but two budding romances that develop in a tasteful fashion, maybe making the book also suitable reading material for youngsters. It contains little sex, but much violence.
While Kendon and his side-kick, Laura evade the heavenly oppressors and their goons, another part of the solution to earthly devastation evolves at Cabo Rojo in southwestern Puerto Rico. An alert astronomer, Eric Tepler, discovers the planet’s impending doom and tries to notify the rest of the world, only to get caught up in the operation to avert the disaster. He connects with a local teacher, Gabriela, whose family was also fated to become engaged in this pulse-pounding adventure.
Murdoch nicely ties together the two subplots to reach a satisfying climax. The story has few wasted words or actions and moves along with magnificent pacing. It doesn’t seem as much a tale of redemption (Kendon morphs from assassin to healer) as touted because the character knew from the beginning that he had a healing power and he continues to kill until the ending. But it is a rollicking good roller-coaster of an adventure.