The Flight of the Silvers by Daniel Price

The Flight of the SilversTitle: The Flight of the Silvers
Series: The Silvers Saga
Author: Daniel Price
4 February 2014
Blue Rider Press
science fiction, thriller, adventure
own copy

The world as we know it ends when the sky crashes down on frozen corpses. Shortly before the end, three mysterious strangers give bracelets to a handful of people, saving them from certain death. The bracelets form a protective shell around the chosen few, then transport them to an parallel-universe Earth whose timeline diverged from ours in the early twentieth century. Here, anti-gravity technology is commonplace and time can be manipulated by common household appliances.

In alternate San Diego, six “Silvers” are brought together because of the silver bracelets they each wear. Sisters Amanda and Hannah Given have never gotten along but are relieved to find each other in this familiar but alien new world. Zack is a witty cartoonist who would have been in New York but travelled to San Diego for Comic-Con. Mia is a smart but insecure 14-year old girl. David is a gorgeous 16-year-old genius from Australia. Theo Maranan is just as gifted but ended up a jaded alcoholic.

Shortly after their arrival the Silvers are taken to a a research facility where they are given food and shelter but also studied (with their consent). Soon, each of them begins to display miraculous abilities. Hannah can move many times faster than normal speed. Amanda can produce strange projections from her hands that can function as weapons or tools. Zack can rewind or fast forward the chronology of objects like food. David can reproduce images or sounds from the past. Mia keeps getting notes from her future self to guide her through the present. And Theo… well that’s a secret.

The Silvers’ powers are pretty cool, but it’s nothing new in this alternate world where scientists have developed the technology to manipulate time. Kitchens have rejuvenators to refresh old food. Restaurants and movie theatres slow time so that you can relax for an hour while only a few minutes pass pass. No one is limited to only 24 hours a day. What’s amazing about the Silvers though, is that they don’t need machines to manipulate time.

All of this is awesome, but I wasn’t that impressed. It’s fun, but futuristic tech and special powers are pretty standard in sff. More importantly, I didn’t like the way some of the characters were depicted (more on that later), and there were little things that bugged me about the writing, like the way the POV kept jumping. I figured I was in for another decent-but-forgettable novel, and I was annoyed that it was over 600 pages long.

But then along came Evan Rander, and everything changed. I’m not going to tell you why, because it’ll be better if you find out for yourself. It suffices to say that this book might have a slightly slow start but once it gets going it’s an entertaining read. Evan is just one part of that. The story gets much more interesting when he joins it, then goes into action overdrive when the Silvers are attacked by enemies they didn’t know they had and are forced to go on the run. The rest of the book is a well-paced thriller with lots of engaging drama as the Silvers try to function as a group while adapting to their new powers, living in a parallel universe, and the constant danger they find themselves in.

I didn’t think the characters were all that great at first, but each of them is trying to cope with personal concerns, and as a group their interactions get more complicated. Amanda is a devout Christian whose beliefs clash with Zack’s agnosticism, David’s scientific mindset, and all their new powers. Hannah has a tendency to view the guys as people she could sleep with and Mia takes an immediate dislike to her, assuming that she’s just another bimbo, like the ones who broke her brothers’ hearts. Having just lost her entire family, she’s annoyed that the Given sisters fight so often rather than appreciating the fact that they have each other. David has terrible social skills and is more willing that the other characters to harm or kill the people who threaten them. Zack hopes there’s a chance of finding his brother in New York, since both of the Given sisters were saved. Theo is still struggling with his alcoholism. These and other issues develop throughout the novel, becoming just as important as the characters’ powers.

It’s a nicely rounded novel that develops in a satisfying way – good story, good characters, a good read. It’s also got pretty solid worldbuilding that unfolds smoothly and gradually, making it a fairly light read, and a great option for readers who are new to the genre. However, Flight of the Silvers falls short in a few areas, one of which is related to the worldbuilding.

This alternative America is an isolationist society. Politically, its development has been completely different and it’s cut itself off from the rest of the world. Early in the twentieth century, there was a “systematic purge” of immigrants. Now, only four hundred highly qualified immigrants are allowed in per year. Foreign news, movies, and presumably other media, are banned. As a result, American society is extremely racist and xenophobic, and also shows signs of being quite sexist. More so than it already is, anyway. One telling moment was when the Silvers first saw the scientists at the research facility – 18 men, 1 woman, all white. At first I thought it was the author’s bias, but it’s a reflection of the society.

This is fine, but most of the time it’s just one of the background details because, except for Theo, all the Silvers are white and society’s prejudices don’t hinder them. Even Theo doesn’t have a problem. Some minor characters refer to him as the “chinny” – Chinese – but not to his face. Why not include some POC characters among the Silvers and make this aspect of the world important to them? As it stands, it’s only an issue for Melissa Masaad, a British-Sudanese police officer tasked with tracking down the Silvers. Her dark skin, dreadlocks and ‘exotic’ features make her particularly conspicuous as a senior police officer in this version of America, but she seems to manage by being brusque and more authoritative than her peers.

The fact that Melissa is a woman is more of an issue for her than her race, and this brings me to the problematic way the women are depicted. All the major female characters – except for 14-year-old Mia – are described in terms of their physical beauty. Melissa is gorgeously exotic. Amanda is tall and slender while Hannah as short and busty, but both are clearly stated to be sexually attractive to men. Each sister feels that the other is more attractive. When they meet the male Silvers later, their sex appeal comes up again.

It’s not their beauty that bothers me per se, but rather that they all happen to be beautiful and their sex appeal is one of the most notable things about their characters. Because hey, we really don’t have enough sexualised female characters in fiction do we? Which is why we also need them to behave in gratuitously sexual ways, like when Melissa takes off her uncomfortable, lacy bra in front of 22 male officers, or lies on a desk in front of a male colleague while wearing a short skirt.

The way Hannah is depicted is of particular concern. The size of her breasts comes up A LOT. It tends to come up in people’s first impressions of her. It’s probably been a major influence on her character’s eager sexuality. Evan seems incapable of speaking about her without referring to her big breasts in some derogatory way. Hannah’s chest get mentioned so often that it’s one of her defining characteristics. David is a genius, Zack is snarky, Amanda is uptight, and Hannah has big breasts.

Her breasts are a personal issue for her as well. She ranges from being annoyed or angry when they attract unwanted attention, to wondering why they aren’t getting more attention, or explicitly using them to get attention.

She even brings her breasts up as a topic of conversation when she’s alone with two of the male characters, and is pleased when one of them mentions that her sister Amanda is almost flat-chested. A little later, she considers mentioning her breasts again, just so she can enjoy the positive attention. And she has a personality to match this stereotypical idea of female beauty – she’s ditzy, promiscuous, and flirtatious.

I don’t think this is necessarily an unrealistic portrayal of a sexy woman, because sometimes women do act and think like this. Most of us grow up being taught to think of the sex appeal of our bodies, particularly the size of our breasts and how much we flaunt them. For Hannah, who receives and enjoys a lot of attention from men and whose body is important in her work as an actress, sex appeal will naturally be an important part of her character. However, I think it’s overdone. There’s more to her than her looks, but it’s hard to get past that when she’s constantly being objectified.

There are also little things about the writing that bug me. The characters are often referred to by a description rather than their names. Hannah is “the actress”, Zack is “the cartoonist”. Amanda is “the widow” although I don’t know why she’s not “the nurse” or “the Christian” since both are far more relevant to her character than her unhappy marriage. Theo is repeatedly referred to as Asian even though it’s specified that he’s Filipino. At the same time, David is not referred to as the Australian.

On a more structural note, the multiple POVs (not only the Silvers’ but many of the other characters who play important roles) mean that the reader often knows more than the main characters, and you have to wait patiently for them to figure things out. There’s one crucial issue that’s hinted at throughout the book, but the reveal is being saved for the sequel.

Which, it must be said, I would very much like to read. Flaws aside, this was still an entertaining and engaging book and I really want to know what’s next for the Silvers. Yes, there are gender and race issues, but I’ve read a lot worse. I think these could just have been handled with more nuance and they didn’t have too much of an impact on my overall enjoyment. So please, don’t make me wait too long for The Song of the Orphans.