Author: Chris Pearson
Genre: Horror / Sci-Fi
So there I was, innocently flipping through my Kindle, trying to imagine a world without bears banging in the shower or where doctors don’t tie up their patients with stethoscopes, when this book happened to me. I say that because I really was trying to force some of the more grotesque erotica out of my mind by replacing it instead with grotesque giant bees, and at only 99c I thought this might do the trick.
Ultimately you can look at The Swarm in one of two ways: either it’s a complete waste of 99c, or it’s a complete bargain in that it provides hours and hours of non-stop rage and irritation that you sometimes have to spend upwards of $3.99 to find. I tend to go with option number two, but even that optimistic outlook on life doesn’t change the fact that this book was rubbish.
Mother nature is an unforgiving bitch of a woman sometimes. As if some insects aren’t revolting enough in their minuscule forms, she’s gone and decided to mutate the damn things so that some of them aren’t only the size of busses but also come equipped with row upon row of razor-sharp teeth!
Meg Donner is in Dallas when the swarm initially strikes and is one of the lucky few in the city to make it out with her life and face still intact. She doesn’t know how and she doesn’t know why, but she is completely certain that her younger brother is still alive in their small hometown in Kansas, even if she’s also certain that her parents no longer tread this mortal path. With a goal in mind she sets out to find her brother.
Along the way she meets a rag-tag team of generic characters whose names are unimportant because they’re easier to identify by the stereotype they bring to the table (buff nice guy, older father figure, cop with a dark past, useless crying woman etc.). These strangers also seem to have a bizarre intuition about what’s going on in the world. Over time the group comes to call this intuition ‘the Bind’ and agree that it seems to have arisen to counter the swarm’s hive mind. With the Bind hopefully able to guide them the group sets off, each to fulfill their own destiny and set of premonitions in the face of the growing intelligence of the swarm that’s sweeping backwards and forwards and decimating the United States.
The Writing Style
The writing in this book is a problem, which can be largely attributed to two things: (1) the construction of the plot, (2) the editing (or lack thereof).
In terms of the actual plot the main issue is the Bind; while an interesting idea, that every character is able to tap into the thoughts and premonitions of the other means that there’s no need or scope to either develop the characters’ relationships or to slowly show the reader what it is the swarm wants – the Bind makes everyone know one another instantly, and the Bind will tell you want the swarm wants. I’m not one who favours unnecessarily padding out a story, but a little buildup and tension would be nice.
Without the tension and the buildup the rest of the story falls rather flat – you’re never wondering what’s going to happen just over the hill because the characters already know, you don’t become attached to any of the characters because most of them know (and tell you) if they’re going to survive or not, and you don’t wonder what caused the swarm to mutate because the characters guess it in the first few chapters and are subsequently proven right. By the time we got to members of the Pentagon believing in telepathy I was ready to tap out.
Then we get to the editing of the book. In all honesty the version I read (and I maybe it’s been updated to fix this) reads like a first draft where the story was more or less nailed down but some consistency checks were still waiting in the wings and just never happened. The best example of this lack of consistency is during an attack on the group where the lead insect goes from initially being a dragonfly, then becomes a butterfly for the next two pages, and then dies as a dragonfly. Some characters’ names are also spelled inconsistently and random phrases are repeated too close to one another, almost as if the author wanted to use them but wasn’t quite sure where they would work best. In a book that’s already a bit on the thin side (clocking in at only 180 pages) and lacking most of what it takes to drive an effective plot, the complete lack of checks just pushes The Swarm ever closer to bottom-of-the-barrel territory.
Unlike with movies I’m not one to generally slog my way through a bad book. As with so many things that I seem to land up reviewing here The Swarm has a very interesting concept (who doesn’t like giant bugs or the idea that humans can also work under a pseudo-hive mind?), but none of the strands that Chris Pearson was working with came together properly. What you’re left with then is a plot that borders on ludicrous, following characters that are completely two-dimensional, and an apocalypse that should be really cool but whose explanation is so Youtube-conspiracy-theory that I really struggled to take anything seriously.
My advice is to steer clear of this one. I don’t know of any better giant bug apocalypse novels off the top of my head but I’m sure they’re out there, and one day I’m gonna find them!