Let me preface this review by saying that I have a signed copy of Fly the Unfriendly Skies. Pretty wild, huh? I vaguely remember sending in one of those order forms that were in the back of Strange Matter books; apparently the authors were signing mail-order merchandise back in the day. Needless to say, I was pretty excited when I flipped to the title page and found Engle and Barnes’ signatures!
On to business: Fly the Unfriendly Skies is the seventh entry in the Strange Matter series, and I believe it’s the first Strange Matter book to feature the “From the Files of” section in the back of the book. The authors started including CG depictions of scenes from the story, and these images add a nice little extra dimension to the whole Strange Matter package/universe. Fly the Unfriendly Skies introduces Morgan Taylor, a sci-fi nut who loves anything UFO-related, and his bossy, popular sister Kelly, who never passes up a chance to one-up her brother. Their plane gets hijacked by aliens and the siblings get dragged onto the mother ship, kicking and screaming. So begins their fight to survive among warring races of extraterrestrials and their harrowing battle to return home.
I had mixed feelings about big number seven. On one hand, the concept was cool and the story was almost pure action. Lots of aliens, lots of lasers, lots of explosions. And the plot wasn’t bad. It was good to see some flashbacks – they definitely added to the complexity of the plot. The rivalry between the grey aliens and the Cepheid was an interesting idea, even if it wasn’t explored thoroughly enough. But despite everything that this book had going for it, Fly the Unfriendly Skies felt a bit…disjointed. It was too much of “this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened”. The prose was just too blunt in many areas and I yearned for more delicate and potent passages of text. The opportunity for rich description is temptingly ripe when dealing with otherworldly creatures, and I feel that the author played it much too safe in this area.
In a wonderful change of editorial quality, Fly the Unfriendly Skies is the first Strange Matter book that I’ve read that didn’t have typos in it (at least any that I could find )! This book also referenced several characters from other Strange Matter books, which was neat. Also, in the final UFO chase/battle scene, the aliens and the kids fly over the lake from an earlier Strange Matter book, The Last One In (I’m only assuming this – I gave that book away so I can’t be sure). They see the hump of the lake creature disappear under the water as they zoom by.
Charming blast from the past: At one point in the story, Morgan is waiting for a file to download from the Internet on his dial-up modem, and it takes forever. Remember dial-up modems? Those dinosaurs? Fudge they were slow! But it made the prize at the end of the download totally sweet because you had to wait like four days for it finish.
Could have been more, could have been less, this Strange Matter entry ended up just being “okay”.
I give Fly the Unfriendly Skies a 3.5 out of 5.