Impact by Rob Boffard is an enjoyable slice of survival sci-fi, comparable to recent bestsellers such as The Martian or Hugh Howey’s Wool.
Its central conceit is a familiar one. Nuclear fallout has rendered the Earth almost uninhabitable. This has forced humanity, bar a few hardy souls, to flee to ‘Outer Earth’, a series of orbiting space stations. But now the planet appears to be reviving and explorers, both willing and unwilling, are returning to see whether civilisation can be renewed.
The three central characters, Riley, Prakesh and Carver are the latter, forced to go back to a post-apocalyptic wasteland by devious manoeuvrings in space. Their return begins with a crash landing and from there things only get worse. Not only must they battle a hostile environment, it turns out the remaining inhabitants aren’t all too friendly either.
Boffard draws his post-apocalyptic world capably, sketching a picture of a desiccated place, poised uncertainly at the start of a painful recovery. The writing is crisp and on occasion elegant. I was even reminded at points of classic endurance adventure novels such as Jack London’s The call of the wild. Although possibly this was because the action in Impact takes place in what was Alaska and northern Canada.
The idea of what life would be like on such a world, both socially and in terms of day to day life is also well imagined, as are the technological aspects of the story. Although, those looking for ‘hard sci-fi’, where the science is central to the plot and exactingly correct, might be a little disappointed. The basic concepts are there, but not the detail.
Beyond the set-up, the novel keeps up a good pace and offers relatively constant helpings of peril. I must admit to growing tired at points of the author’s habit of ending every single chapter with a cliff-hanger but that’s standard for novels such as this and it does makes for a compelling read.
The protagonists are, for the most part, relatively undemanding companions. I couldn’t imagine being hugely upset if one of them died, but in general you want them to pull through unscathed. The secondary characters don’t add a huge amount, but again they do enough to keep the plot ticking along. One thing I would say though is that Boffard may want to work harder on the more emotional elements of his work in future. Without wishing to give too much away, Impact features a love story and it’s probably the most unconvincing element of a novel that features the use of asteroids as atmospheric re-entry vehicles.
This is the third book in a series (Tracer and Zero-G, explored Outer Earth) but it’s certainly not necessary to have read the first two to enjoy Impact. It’s ultimately an undemanding read but it has enough quirky elements to help it rise above similar fare. If you like survival sci-fi you’ll definitely enjoy this but even if that’s not your particular interest there should be enough in the novel to keep the attention.
Impact was published by Orbit Books on 25 August 2016.
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Review by Joseph Surtees