by admin on Aug.06, 2013
Locus Looks at Books: Faren Miller
Assault on Sunrise, Michael Shea (Tor 978- 0 -7653-2436-8, $25.99, 288pp, hc) August 2013
Though I haven’t been able to keep up with everything Michael Shea has written in various subgenres of SF and fantasy since I started reviewing his work more than 30 years ago, he never disappoints. Even when I arrive in midtrilogy (Assault on Sunrise is book two), it’s not hard to catch up with the quirky cast of players and techs associated with the future Hollywood introduced in The Extra.
As cities like Los Angeles become more like enormous slums and a few industry moguls run amok without fear of governmental restraint, some people escape to their own odd little communities: towns like Sunrise, up in the Trinity Mountains where the air is still clear and the corporate fist hasn’t quashed all freedom. But that’s about to change.
Mainly in order to strike back at the little group of upstarts who disrupted filmmaking in The Extra, Panoply Studios’ vengeful CEO trumps up a murder charge that condemns Sunrise and all of its inhabitants to the latest, most sweeping and ruthless form of judicial sentence: a ‘‘live-action’’ filming of an attack (also known as Assault on Sunrise), that follows an exhaustively planned script where invading monsters aren’t just special effects. Instead of digital manipulations, Panoply’s Hollywood conjurers deal in something more like mad science, an unholy combination of genetics and robotics.
The refugees have enough experience, and links to insiders still in the business, to get some notion of what they’ll face, yet they can only scramble to set up makeshift countermeasures as the attack escalates and grows ever more complex. Soon they’re busy stealing ‘‘rafts’’ (the flying ships suitable for either camera shots or bombings), lab testing a sample of the bizarre gel that develops into seemingly immortal, selfregenerating giant bugs, or pursuing an urgent quest for design flaws in the finished products.
Shea doesn’t simply give us harried action figures in a sketchy landscape. By Chapter XII, ‘‘The Monster’s Flesh’’, we know these people well enough to feel the host of individual presences and high emotions that jostle against each other in a passage like this one:
At the back corner of Ike’s Engine Repair’s
big-vaulted garage was a small, crowded
machine shop. Devlin bade everyone in.
Mazy, Lance, and Radner were already
there. Shutting the door, she sealed them
all in the cold oily smell of machinery. It
was somehow the right scent, a smell of
mustered weapons, of danger and urgent
One character – whose wife is four months pregnant in the book’s opening scene – takes a more direct hold of later chapters, speaking in the first person. Like a film’s occasional uses of close-up and specific focus among larger vistas, Curtis takes us with him into the heart of his own adventures, though he never looms as an epic hero would – not even after managing, with a ‘‘lucky shot,’’ to blow the head off an insectile invader.
Amid such mayhem, not everybody can survive, and each loss cuts deep. But enough do make it through, or get born into chaos, to leave me eager for the battles of book three, Fortress Hollywood.