The Chosen Twelve by James Breakwell
DISCLAIMER: I received an advanced reading copy of this novel from the publishers in return for an honest and unbiased review. My thanks to Rebellion Publishing for the opportunity.
At some vaguely defined point in the future, the human race has diminished to just a handful of twelve-year olds living in the remains of a colony ship half-buried on a moon orbiting the planet Dion, and believe me when I say that’s not the weirdest or most absurd part of James Breakwell’s disturbingly excellent The Chosen Twelve.
The story begins with one of the aforementioned twelve-year olds trying to outwit an automated door so he can go and talk to God. Who just happens to live in a coffee machine. The door wins. And thus the tone is set for a post-apocalyptic tale in which almost nothing is as it seems, and the humour is the only thing that stops the story tipping over into outright horror.
The bulk of the narrative follows the twenty-two humans as they are prepared for their ultimate mission: to repopulate the human race against all odds on a planet that is apparently designed for anything but human habitation. Helping (insert air-quotes there) the human kids are the bots, Edubot and SCASL. The former comes across as a well-intentioned but often ineffective school-ma’am type teacher, while the latter (full name Supreme Commander of All Sentient Life) is just an out-and-out bully with a dictatorial streak a mile wide. And they’re supposedly the good guys.
The kids themselves have spent the bulk of their lives, which turns out to be much more than the twelve years they’ve been told, playing simulations in order to learn how to overcome the obstacles they’ll encounter down on the planet’s surface, but when they find out only twelve of their number will get a place on the colony ship’s lone lander, divisions that were merely cosmetic before become entrenched and sides are drawn for what may very well be humanity’s final civil war.
Mixing up elements of Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games, and throwing in the absurdist humour of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this book flies along at a goodly pace once the initial introductions have been made. There are twists and turns in the narrative that will have your head spinning, but none of this hides the fact that under all that expertly wrought comedy, this is, at its heart, a darkly horrific tale of human survival, of hope against adversity, and of doing what’s necessary to beat the odds.
I’m not sure this one will be to everyone’s taste, but I do strongly recommend it to anyone who likes their dystopian, post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a hint of humour. Just be prepared for more than a few WTF moments.