By Ramgopal Venkateswaran (4C)
Fright, flight or fight? When extra-terrestrials invade Earth, Zack, a Malaysian teen, got far more than what he had always wished for. Now, with his friends, he must learn to survive in a world where life is a luxury and death is an escape. All the Way North is an action-adventure teenage sci-fi novel which explores political, philosophical, military and scientific sub-themes.
All the Way North is the second novel written by alumnus Ng Zhan Ming (RI, 2012). An ASEAN scholar from Penang, Malaysia, he joined RI as a Year 5 student in 2011, which is also when he wrote his first science-fiction novel Mars 12: Destination Mars, a success that sold 400 copies even before officially hitting the shelves. This is his second authorial venture in what is another hard sci-fi novel that forms the first volume of an upcoming series.
One would expect a story about a group of Singaporean teenagers to have a familiar feel to it, but from the very first lines, something is noticeably different—there is a dark tone that resonates throughout the novel, and a sense of foreboding that constantly builds up until it explodes into war and chaos that is not altogether unexpected, but nonetheless chilling. The story traces the journey of these teenagers as they venture through a Singapore that is at war against an alien race and struggle to grapple with a reality that is ‘wilder than imagination’. Volume I (Singapore) concludes with the teenagers fleeing literally ‘all the way north’ out of Singapore and into Malaysia.
A distinctive style emerges through Zhan Ming’s writing; it is focused and research-backed with a clear purpose. Unlike many other stories of the sci-fi genre, it does not ‘bend’ the laws of science to fit its purposes—the story may be fictional but the science is very real. Clear logic and attention to detail underpins a coherent storyline that allows for the reader to easily relate to the world of the narrative and to immerse himself fully in the story.
While Zhan Ming’s writing can come across as a little too dense at times, the scientific portions are usually explained in sufficient depth (though it must be noted that a little help from Google and Wikipedia might be necessary to fully grasp these sections of the text).
This focus on facts does not significantly mar the novel’s readability for the average reader; for the most part, the text is equally comprehensive in unearthing and exploring the emotions of every one of its characters in utmost detail. However, Zhan Ming sometimes deviates from the action of the scene and devotes, perhaps, a tad too much time to delving into the details of the characters’ emotions. This leads to the story having a slightly draggy feel at times, as plot development suffers temporarily for character development.
In the course of his writing, the author provides ample food for thought throughout the text and is unafraid to question some of the deeper philosophical themes that resonate not only within the story but also illuminate our understanding of the world. For example, the build-up to the scene where the characters realise that war is imminent constantly tugs at our notions of what reality actually means to each one of us. As we, like the protagonist, realise what is bound to happen (through the extensive foreshadowing), we behold a world that is much the same as ours but loses structure and all semblance of order in a startlingly quick fashion. The author’s references to ‘Big Brother’ (a character from the famed novel 1984 by George Orwell) and the concept of an overarching ‘System’ create a somewhat dystopian feel that hangs over the whole novel.
Of course, the story isn’t all gloomy either and the lively narration that stems from the thoughts of a growing adolescent provides entertaining commentary. There is sufficient scope provided for romance and friendship to develop and this keeps the story chugging along at a healthy enough pace with the reader’s uncompromised attention.
A sneak peek to Volume II (Malaysia), slated to be released later this year, is also included at the end of the book.
Ultimately, this is an engaging read from an alumnus of RI who is an emerging author in the sci-fi scene. It is entertaining and insightful in parts with many interesting philosophical ideas, and it is also scientifically accurate with little to no logical gaps. This book is not only for sci-fi fans but for anyone who would like a thought-provoking read set within a local context. Zhan Ming shows much promise in just his second book and is definitely an author to look out for in the coming years.
Purchase this novel online at http://atwn.storenvy.com/ A free preview version with the first 4 chapters is also available from the same link.