Professor Kyle Riggs and his kids were asleep in their house when the alien spaceship arrived. It killed the kids, kidnapped Kyle, and put him through a series of grueling tests. Since he was still alive afterward, the ship made Kyle the captain. This has been happening all over Earth. Most of the captured humans have been killed because they couldn’t make it through the rigorous tests, but all the survivors are now piloting spaceships and in the perfect position to fight off an alien invasion that’s coming to enslave humanity. Add in a beautiful naked coed who’s chained up inside Kyle’s spaceship and you have a silly, but exciting, male wish-fulfillment fantasy.
I want to admit straight up that even though I’m giving Swarm only two stars (it’s just not a very good book), it entertained me. I think many readers will love Swarm — those who just want a fast-moving exhilarating ride and don’t care too much about plot, characterization, and craft. Sometimes I’m in the mood for something like that and Swarm will do quite nicely in that circumstance. However, I want to critique Swarm by its merits, and not by my mood.
The plot of Swarm is instantly engaging. Professor Riggs’ kids are snatched by a spaceship, disemboweled, and dropped to the ground. Wow. That kind of gets your attention. Then Kyle finds himself captain of an amazing piece of technology which belongs to an alien race. Until now, humans thought they were alone in the universe. Now they’re fighting a second alien race with help from these aliens who’ve given them ships but have also killed thousands of humans while vetting them for command positions. This diverse set of ship captains must figure out how to fly their ships and work together to save Earth. Crazy.
This is a pretty cool setup, but unfortunately there were so many places where I just couldn’t suspend disbelief due to ridiculous plot elements and bad characterization. There are many examples I could give, but I’ll just mention two. The first is the ineffective way the Earth governments respond to the spaceships. Kyle and the other captains roam around Earth for a while before getting organized. They hover over homes and malls and grocery stores, using the ship to steal items they need to outfit their ships. (The way they do this reminded me of the “claw” type arcade games and that funny scene in Toy Story: “The Claw!”). A ship captain from Australia is declaring himself leader and threatening Kyle and others who won’t follow him. Kyle, a college professor who has just seen his ship kill his own kids, goes off on his looting spree instead of immediately going to the police or other authorities to report what’s happening. Earth’s authorities, who have no idea what’s going on, seem paralyzed — they just wait to see what will happen. Even though they have satellite communications and internet, it takes a long time before the ship commanders and the authorities are communicating with each other. Even then the ragtag team of pilots decide to band together to save Earth rather than handing over the ships to legitimate military forces. And the governments let this happen. It’s exciting, but not at all likely.
Second is the preposterous relationship with the college student. Kyle, a widower, has just seen his kids brutally murdered, but he gets over this fast enough when the naked girl shows up. Sure, he talks like he’s grieving, just to remind us that Larson knows we’re going to have an issue with this, but he doesn’t act like he’s grieving when he’s ogling the girl and talking more about her nakedness than he did about his kids. Pretty soon he’s in bed with the girl (she has no personality, but she is naked) and the kids seem forgotten. Larson would have done better to bring her in during book 2 instead (Swarm is the first in a series of at least seven books). And maybe give her some more features in addition to nakedness. I mean, she is a college student — she should have more features.
I could go on, but I think those two examples get the point across. If you’re looking for a shallow but thrilling ride that’s fairly unique and you don’t have high expectations about craft, Swarm may be just what you’re looking for. I recommend the audio version narrated by Mark Boyett. I didn’t like his voice for the naked chick, but he did well with the rest of it.
B.V. Larson is an independent author who self-published Swarm. The audio version was produced by Audible Frontiers in 2011 and has been put on CD by Brilliance Audio. They sent me a review copy. I also have a copy of book two, Extinction. I’ll pick it up sometime when I’m in the mood for something really shallow.
Star Force — (2010-2013) Publisher: Earth arms marines with alien technology and builds its first battle fleet! Kyle Riggs is snatched by an alien spacecraft sometime after midnight. The ship is testing everyone it catches and murdering the weak. The good news is that Kyle keeps passing tests and staying alive. The bad news is the aliens who sent this ship are the nicest ones out there…. A novel of military science fiction by bestselling author B. V. Larson, SWARM is the story of Earth’s annexation by an alien empire. Long considered a primitive people on a backwater planet, humanity finds itself in the middle of a war, and faced with extinction.