Book Review: The Effort by Claire Holroyde
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Apocalyptic
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (January 12, 2021)
Length: 368 pages
Author Information: Website
The Effort is a book about a killer asteroid hurtling towards the Earth, threatening to wipe out the entire human race. Now, a team of scientists have assembled in order to find a way to blow it off course. But if you’re heading into this book expecting a big, noisy, hyper-jaunty high-octane action thriller like Armageddon, this isn’t that kind of story. Nor is it quite like the feel-good, inspirational and heartwarming kind of apocalyptic tale that brings humanity together. It’s pretty depressing, actually. And a lot of it isn’t even about the asteroid.
The plot begins with an introduction to our main characters, all from disparate parts of the world but are united in one goal: to stop UD3, the large comet spotted near Jupiter’s orbit that is estimated to impact Earth in less than a year. Codenamed “The Effort”, the mission is headed by Dr. Ben Schwartz of NASA, who travels to French Guiana with his girlfriend Amy Kowalski to meet up with the rest of the team which includes China’s Dr. Zhen Liu and UN interpreter Love Mwangi. Try as they might to keep the operation a secret though, the news of the comet is eventually leaked, causing widespread panic across the globe.
Meanwhile, aboard a Coast Guard polar icebreaker heading north, photographer Jack Campbell travels with Mara Gutiérrez and her fellow marine biologists to study and document the natural beauty of Arctic. Also on board is Gustavo Wayãpi, a Nobel Laureate poet from Brazil who has come for inspiration, but instead finds his mind troubled with thoughts of his recently murdered brother. As news of UD3 reach them, however, the passengers wonder what this would mean for the chances of survival now that chaos worldwide has cut them off from civilization and help. Questions abound about the uncertain fate of loved ones, especially in cities where the mass hysteria has caused the greatest damage. In New York, we get to see some of this fear and confusion unfold on the ground through the eyes off a woman named Rivka, facing the dangers alone while her girlfriend is away, helping The Effort save the world.
Similar to books like Station Eleven, The Space Between the Stars, or Good Morning, Midnight, this one uses sci-fi themes as a device to explore the intricacies of human nature rather than being interested in the actual sci-fi elements themselves. As someone not entirely prepared for a story like this, I think I was left a bit disappointed. This is Claire Holroyde’s debut so I don’t want to nitpick too much, but at times The Effort feels more like a generic mainstream fiction novel dressed up just enough with talk of spaceships and comets to qualify it for the science fiction category, helping it stand out. Fans of more traditional sci-fi, however, will probably find it lacking, and some might even find it boring.
Personally, I found some sections of this novel tedious. There are no groundbreaking ideas here, just a collection of character studies and personal stories that rely on emotional appeal to carry the premise, and it is pretty heavy-handed on that front. That said, I don’t want to sell this book short. While none of it was really all that resonating or swept me off my feet, there’s still a decent story here. Once you realize where the author is going, it’s easier to get on board with the overall tone and style of the narrative. There’s a lot of flashback, as each character’s background is gradually developed and teased apart. Holroyde also wanted to show how different groups of people would react in different ways to the incoming comet, but this will be mostly going through the motions if you’re accustomed to reading apocalyptic fiction, though several of the characters’ experiences and scenarios were quite fascinating.
The best parts by far were from the perspective of those key players behind The Effort. It honestly wouldn’t break my heart if everything else was cut. With UD3 practically on Earth’s doorstep, and the deadline for anything to be done fast approaching, some of the novel’s most intense moments involved the game of diplomacy and negotiations on the world stage, struggling to keep a lid on the biggest secret in history while trying to convince other countries to cooperate at the same time. As impact day draws nearer, the team working around the clock become worn down by fatigue and stress, leaving the fate of the Earth’s with little hope.
Like I said, this is not a sunshine and rainbows kind of read. Leaving aside the news of the killer asteroid and the global unrest that follows—the food shortages, the killing and burning and looting—there are also themes of political strife, of living under bitter and violent conditions in places where human rights are practically nonexistent. The book might have been stronger if all these various threads had come together more coherently, but in the end, I think the push to have so many characters and the insistence to develop each of them equally turned out to be the book’s ultimate downfall. The threads got out of hand anyway, and I can’t say I felt all that satisfied even with the hammy epilogue.
Bottom line, this is not a sci-fi thriller and I would pass if you’re into more traditional escapism SFF, though the intimate human stories and the personal stakes make The Effort worth checking out—just don’t expect anything unprecedented as it treads more or less the same ground as similar apocalyptic novels.