The Silent Invasion
James Bradley’s novel The Silent Invasion – the first in a trilogy for young adults – is set precisely 10 years from now, but Bradley’s 2027 doesn’t feel at all futuristic. Rather, it’s a world in which the anxieties of the current day have taken concrete forms. Alien spores capable of colonising all life, including humans, have arrived on planet Earth. Australia is divided in three: the alien-colonised Zone covers the north, separated from the south by a thin strip of land known as the Transitional. A powerful government agency known only as Quarantine scans the citizens of the south for signs of “the Change” and clinically executes those who have been infected.
The teenage narrator, Callie Achebe, inhabits a doubly liminal zone – between child and adult and between the normalcy of a remembered past and the dystopian present. When her stepsister Gracie starts to show the symptoms of the Change, she makes the rash decision to take Gracie and flee north from her Adelaide home, towards the Zone, where Gracie will be safe from Quarantine.
It’s hard not to draw parallels with the contemporary political situation throughout Callie’s voyage north. The Zone is separated from the rest of Australia by a huge concrete wall that resembles both Donald Trump’s proposed Mexican border wall and the Israeli West Bank barrier. Quarantine employs drones and sophisticated digital surveillance to track Callie and Gracie. The “lucky” refugees who made it to Australia before the country’s borders were closed live squalid existences, either crammed into an overcrowded Sydney or exploited as labourers in the farmlands that border the Transitional. The weather is weird, too – the Changed biology of the Zone creates its own hothouse climate and sends torrid heat and storms south to Sydney.
These parallels, alongside the simplicity of its journey-into-darkness plot, make The Silent Invasion a gripping read, even if some elements seem to fall into place all too conveniently. Bradley has managed the enviable feat of paring his prose style back to suit younger readers without dumbing himself down. The ethnic diversity of his characters – both Callie and Gracie are mixed-race – demonstrates he is cognisant of the debates about diversity that are currently roiling the world of young adult fiction. The Silent Invasion is therefore very much of, and about, its own time – and one that deserves to be eagerly devoured by its target audience. SZ
Pan Australia, 300pp, $9.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 8, 2017 as "James Bradley, The Silent Invasion". Subscribe here.