“Space is hard. Grab a helmet” – the tagline and the cover art were all I knew of this new release in YA sci-fi. And I have to admit, I absolutely do judge a lot of books by their cover, at least when making a decision to buy or not. The Disasters was one of those aesthetically influenced choices and I was curious and ready to start reading as soon as it arrived in the mail.
Btw, huge shout-out to betterworldbooks for a truly lovely customer experience (they sent an adorable little e-mail from the perspective of the book that’s being shipped, made my day).
So on to the review (with all the SPOILERS!):
You know, I’m always weary of stories that are compared to The Breakfast Club ’cause usually that’s just a cheap marketing ploy. So I wasn’t exactly surprised when this book, that is being advertised as “The Breakfast Club meets Guardians of the Galaxy,” had nothing in common with either of these stories – well aside from revolving around a group of teenagers who happen to be in space.
The ‘band of misfits’ (who aren’t really misfits) that lead us through this story are the four 17/18-year-olds Nax, Rion, Case and Zee who have come to Earth’s one and only space academy to learn the trade and work on or around one of the colonies that Earth has created on several other planets. On the way, they meet Asra and together they escape the police, an evil drug lord and a secret organization that’s remained underground for the past near 200 years and is finally coming out of the woodwork to commit genocide on the biggest scale human history has ever seen.
Sounds terrifying, exciting, thrilling! Our main characters are thrown from one space ship chase into the next and they have 4 days to save almost all of humanity from certain death, so good thing they just happen to have the perfect skillset for the job. How convenient 😉
Nax – the first-person narrator and pilot extraordinaire of the crew, naturally gains the status of captain
even though that is entirely undeserved and likes to call himself a failure at least once every scene if he’s not drooling over his crew mates with heart-eyes even in life-or-death situations
Case aka Genius Girl – double major in mechanical and electrical engineering who thrives under the pressure but also suffers from panic attacks once a day, apparently
Rion – tall, dark and handsome; a muscular British boy who can diplomatically talk his way out of any situation and is a wiz with a spaceship’s laser guns right on his first try (not sure any flaws were mentioned … unless you count getting shot and needing medical attention?)
Zee aka Dr. Eyeliner – former professional athlete and fully-fledged doctor who can diagnose you practically without even looking at you, mom friend of the group & does perfect eyeliner. Uhm … I guess her flaw might be … she’s not a native English speaker? idk man
Asra – expert hacker and very knowledgeable in all colonies-related aspects
despite having lived in only one colony her entire life who’s running from her criminal father and has several siblings who hardly play a role
This seems like a good time to point out that these kids are barely eighteen years old.
And via the description of the main characters, we already see the fault of the entire novel: nothing feels real. The worldbuilding is incredibly lazy.
The story is supposed to take place almost 200 years into the future and yet there is so little that’s different from 2019. We get no new slang terms or colloquialisms; there is tech but it’s some seriously unimaginative space stuff and only the equipment that is directly used seems to have been invented in this future; nothing related to ca. 2195 popular culture is included (if you don’t count the Harry Potter reference that was actually pretty cute). But there are two things that bothered me the most about the worldbuilding:
One: What are the consequences of having colonies on other planets? Surely, there must be more and more original political and social issues than that of the main conflict (the secret organization stuff). What is the political system even like? Is there an intergalactical UN type of network? The author really missed an opportunity to create something exciting and unique there. Every colony is described as though it were just another city on earth with the same structure, same kinds of people, same everything. Well, except for the ‘color scheme,’ apparently.
Which brings me to point two: An issue that nearly every space sci-fi story seems to fall prey to (hello, Voltron) is that the ‘planets’ are pretty much just one city with one race of people. Same thing happens in The Disasters. As a reader, you get no sense of whether there are different countries or even different cities on any given planet (save for Earth, ofc). Asra wants to escape her family’s grasp and obviously, since we’re in a novel about space, another planet is her best option. But it is never explained why she can’t simply go to a different city or country on her home planet. Like I said, the worldbuilding is very bare bones which makes this universe and the characters seem two-dimensional and too unrealistic to successfully suspend my disbelief.
What makes these flaws even more frustrating is the knowledge that other parts of this novel are actually pretty good. Not rave-worthy, but the dialogues are nice and well-rounded, and the action sequences could have been great were they not so mind-numbingly repetitive. After all, there are three chase scenes in space ships and three or four on foot. That’s a lot.
But by far the most infuriating part of this entire novel is the final show down. 60 pages ‘til the end, I was fully expecting there to be a sequel in order to do all the unresolved storylines justice. But no. Nope. Everything is neatly resolved within a few short pages. The crew immediately finds the gadget they have to destroy in this vast space academy that is the ONLY ONE OF ITS KIND (!) despite being chased by some unspecified evil soldiers. The crew, entirely untrained with weapons, manages to take out the majority of their opponents with guns that shoot temporarily sleep-inducing chemicals – while the bad guys have actual bullets – in a matter of minutes. They get trapped in a room where they are getting fired at with actual bullets as they hide behind a barricade. Thankfully, Nax is a quick thinker and releases the gas from a few containers in the direction of their assailants. Not to kill them, obviously, this is the fluffiest of all YA novels after all. No, they counter their being targeted with ACTUAL BULLETS with laughing gas. The bad guys are literally defeated by the power of a light chuckle.
Nothing like taking the stakes out of intergalactic genocide.
Listen. The Disasters wasn’t awful. I just wouldn’t read it again and I can’t say I’d recommend it when there were so many more enjoyable books released in 2018.
Sounds harsh but, honestly: criticism is hard. Grab a helmet.