Love, outdistanced – R. E. Palmer’s “Sky”

Description by the author / blurb:

Tomas Moone has a secret – he’s terrified if anyone finds out, he’ll lose the girl of his dreams he’s so desperate to meet.

Selene has a secret – she fears if Tomas discovers the truth, he’ll reject her, and the last of her race will be lost forever.

Carly has no secrets – she’s in a coma. If Tomas fails to rescue her, she will suffer an eternity of horror and torment, along with her friends… and every living soul on the planet.

“Sky” is a highly promising debut novel. In the following, I will concentrate on the points that deterred me from a 5 star rating. I won’t enlarge on what impelled me to the splendid 4 star rating in the first place. It’s more meaningful to write about the less evident than about the obvious. I think that anyone who picks up this book and reads a while into it will find it’s a good book. It’s not so clear, however, why it shouldn’t be a compelling book.

An alien seems to take hold in Tomas’ mind – she’s called Selene. He communicates with her in bits of dreams and day-dreams, and finally sees her appear in the world he lives in. His experience of her seem to be linked to another vision, the vision of no more than the fleeting figure of a girl, but who already is the girl of his life – Sky. Selene tries to convince Tomas to be part of her plan to maintain her alien race, and to better the human race and the earth alongside it. And yet, Selene has a secret.

And then there is Shelley, a journalist. She struggles to uncover a mystery, and it will lead her to unite efforts with Tomas. In the beginning it’s not clear how her story line can be linked to Tomas’, but the two lines progressively verge on each other. Shelley’s part, in the beginning, really has the appearance of a detective story, that later changes to the paranormal. The merger of the story lines is convincing, but not quite so is the way Tomas and Shelley finally meet – Tomas’ body, while staying in London, is somehow duplicated in Australia. This second body is not a ghostly shadow, but a very physical form. Everybody else can see him as well, he needs to sleep and eat etc.

Even in a paranormal story, this sudden switch for Tomas to get to Australia stretches believability. Australia, that’s where both Shelley and Sky live. Surely, at this point in the story, the author had to get the characters together, and get them together quickly. But even the paranormal has its own logic, its own limits – paranormal cannot mean for an author that everything is possible. Else story complications could always be resolved by such jumps of faith, like the idea of two physical Tomas’ living on different places of the earth at the same time.

At other places the story is kept moving as well by spreads in credibility. Carly is the vital person in the story Shelley is to unravel, yet Carly is locked into her own world, inside her head. But the very moment Carly starts to let her feelings go, at the moment she struggles to speak, at this critical moment – Shelley is overcome by the urge to fall asleep. „Suddenly, Shelley felt tired“ the author just writes. And to take her nap, she lies down, of all places, on a church pew. Of course, when she wakes next, Carly is gone. The reader stares eyes open. Surely, for the author, there would have been less implausible ways to introduce the next, quite dramatic scene, which demanded that Carly would creep away in the first place.

Besides the few jumps in credibility, I had difficulties with the confusion that some scenes are shedding, particularly those that represent the dream state of characters. An example for such a scene would be the failed exorcism on Carly. She lives it through with her dream images. She imagines herself standing close to water. „Far below, the sea looked like oil.“ Something is down there, it tries to drain the life force from her, „like the others“, who are, somehow, entrapped in the greater dark something. They also draw life from her, yet plead release at the same time. Next a whirlpool opens in the water, Carly stares down into it, then the water rises, „or was she falling?“ Walls of water encompass her all around and a face appears behind them. She tries and cannot scream, but then she smiles. She recognises the face for a reflection of herself. And finally, she laughs.
And through this bewildering description resonate the cries of the priest, „Father Almighty!“ etc.
I was quite stunned by the whirl of information, and left puzzled as to why Carly finally smiles, though I first had ascribed the face behind the water-walls to the „dark something“. Eventually I got the impression the puzzle was cleared up, but this did only happen farther on in the story. Often the reader is just thrown into these dream scenes, without a clear idea of what they are about. He has to patiently carry the confusion and wait for the clarification that is to come some chapters onward.
For instance, there is a dream scene starting with „He was coming for her. She could do nothing to stop him…“ The reader naturally assumes this must happen in the minds of Tomas or Carly, since up to then only their dreams have been depicted. However, later on the reader discovers that this was not the case, that the dream scene really belonged to Shelley.

It is also in one of Carlys’ flights of mind that the most concentrated bit of information about the alien race is given, information else only parsimoniously spread throughout the novel.
It is said the aliens „were once like gods“, they guided younger races and travelled ever on, homeless. But then doubt grew „amongst a few“. Jealousy towards the races they guided prickled them, they were „craving the freedom of mortals to escape their bonds when spent“. This last phrase encloses several meanings and is not explicated further. Following grammar, it are the bonds of the mortals that would be spend here. One could assume that “bonds” mean the bonds of the physical body. But why should immortals, who are not tied to bodies, envy the freedom of mortals to escape from their body when they die, when their bonds are “spent”? The reader doesn’t know; he is left to guesswork. However that may be, the text goes on to tell that the sort of symbiosis “they” seemed to have held with the mortals ceased when „they“ became „more powerful“ and needed more „living tissue“ – well, who, exactly needed more? The alien race in general or the few who had their doubts? And why made their doubts and their jealousy increase their need for living tissue? The paragraph ends with: „Before the others could suspect the change, they fled.“ But who fled whom? It seems it would be the few with their doubts who fled the others of their race, who stayed immune from jealousy. But I had to read the paragraph twice over to make the connection; and still I wasn’t sure.
This is one of the very few passages that could help explain the motives of Selene, the alien. But it’s less than a third of a page, and attached to one of the already confusing dream scenes – where Carly finds herself on a shore by a lighthouse.

The above example shows how the uncertainty of the dream scenes can impede character development, since it is mainly through such dreams that Selene communicates and that knowledge about her alien race and her past seep through.

I suspected that, to begin with, the author wasn’t quite sure about the place this alien race was to take in the cosmos – hence the ambiguity about Selene’s origins. Indeed, the books starts as a story about a single nerdy boy and his daydreaming search for a girl who flickers on the in-between of reality and imagination. Then it grows out into a cosmic tale of alien races and an imminent danger for the entire human world. There are, however, some creaks and cracks in the process of the outgrow. They are quickly dealt with by some jumps and stretches posing some demands on the reader’s good faith. This rather surprising rush from the small-scale of a boy’s problems and desires to the grand-scale of cosmic struggles is made poignant with Tomas’ following thoughts: „Should he press on to find the girl of his dreams, and put the human race in danger? Or turn back, forget about her and save the planet. It was a tough call.“ The reader cannot but smile at the naivety of the reflection, due to the disproportion of the relation.

But, as said, though the author depends on the good faith of the reader, he does not drift into the fantastical. He walks the borderline of how much story twists the paranormal genre can expose the reader to; he walks the line, he does not overstep it. Thus, while the novel does not reach complete soundness, the story appears rounded-off well enough. The plot is consequential and straight, albeit it has to hop across some gaps to keep up with the straightness.

What I found quite hassling was the utterly incomprehensible punctuation. Not just sometimes, not just often, but regularly, systematically, commas make no sense at all. „A featureless skyscraper, stood opposite.“ – „Shelley hoped her face, hadn’t just given away her thoughts.“ At other places commas tend to make the reader misunderstand sentences. He has to look at them again to notice his error. For example: „The image of Sky’s nails clawing at the ground, stuck in his head.“ Here it is the image that stuck in the head, not the nails, but the erratic punctuation made me believe, for the strangest of moments, that the second was true.
Commas are the rhythm of language; as a result, the text abounds with rhythmical blunders. This is all the more unfortunate because the author’s language, though easy to read, also makes some advances into the poetical: „The glistening, bullet-shaped ships, streaked the sky with their pink trails; it looked to Tomas as though the planet wept at their departure.“ Or when Tomas swims up from the muted noise of underwater: „He broke through the glass sky to be greeted by a barrage of sound.“
I also remarked the characters “leant” and “leaned” a lot, forward, over, and in all directions – besides, they were doing a lot with their hands, particularly holding or touching their head. But other repetitions didn’t strike me, and they are of little consequence compared to the errors in punctuation.

This shouldn’t deflect from the over-all assessment that “Sky” is an exciting and at times also chilling novel. It is the story of a boy, a girl and their mysterious love, the story of a journalist and the shadows of her past, but it’s also the tale of an alien race with uncertain intentions and the repercussions of their deeds on the present and future of the earth. “Sky” sets a wide frame, and for the most part, it holds it together firmly. Constant changes of scenes set the quick pace for an entertaining ride into the paranormal. The four stars are well-earned, and, at the same time, for a debuting author, earned with almost easy grace.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Link to Amazon USA (paperback, kindle version also available on all Amazon sites)
Link to Amazon UK
Link to Amazon Germany