A Solid Core of Alpha by Amy Lane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A Solid Core of Alpha is an impressive book. It’s intense, angsty, drama filled, and sure to make you cry more than once. Even so, once the drama stopped and the inevitable slow glide to a happy ending started, the book started to lose me. The characters definitely deserve a happy ending but when the story lost it’s intensity, the characters did as well and ultimately the book ended on a whimper as compared to the explosive beginning. I would still eagerly recommend this story to those who love angst and drama filled stories. This is intense in the best ways and sucks you in right from the start. This is definitely a not miss book.
The story is two parts. The first is Anderson alone on his shuttlecraft after his mining planet has been destroyed by a meteor. He’s the only survivor and at age 12 he has no idea how to program the ship. He’s plunged into a hyperspace that lasts for over 10 years, forcing Anderson to cope with excruciating loneliness by adapting his holodeck. The people Anderson creates become his family, his friends, and his companions. Yet as the holograms become sentient, they change and evolve, sometimes in violent and dangerous ways. The second part is when, despite all the obstacles, Anderson makes it to a space station where he encounters brilliant but lazy engineer CJ. CJ is enamored of Anderson but understands that Anderson is not quite mentally healthy and will need time to recover. It’s not easy but it may be worth it.
The story starts with a bang, literally. Anderson’s world is destroyed before his eyes as he’s launched in a shuttle all alone. Right away the story is intense and emotional. This is perhaps some of Lane’s best writing as she describes the incredible pain and loneliness Anderson experiences. Reading along as he grows up, changes, and builds a family of holograms is engrossing, captivating, and emotional. In fact I had to take a few breaks because as much as I already adored Anderson, his journey is hard to take and definitely made me cry a couple of times. The description and writing is incredibly fluid and seamless, owing in large part to how absorbing the story is, so it sucks you in right from the beginning and doesn’t let you go.
The imagination and ideas are really quite good as is the perfect touch of strengths and weaknesses to all the characters, Anderson and the holograms. They become as real to the reader as they do to Anderson. It’s really quite a credit to the writing and the story. This intensity continues as Anderson eventually docks at a space station and encounters CJ. Here the story almost recants the first part, as CJ and his sister Cassie watch the recorded footage of what Anderson went through. What makes this work so well is while the first part is seen through an innocent young Anderson’s eyes, the second part is seen through more experienced and heartbreaking perspectives. This increases the angst and easily made me cry again for what Anderson experienced. You understand the full scope more with CJ’s narration.
Now once Anderson starts to get the help he so clearly needs is where the story kind of loses me. I feel bad saying that because the depiction of PTSD and the portrayal of support are very well done. It’s a bit overly positive and somewhat easy but considering the wealth of drama and angst already included in the story, the choice is very understandable. My issue is that the time line skips over the hard work of Anderson’s therapy and gives brief happy glances at the long distance couple of CJ and Anderson. This isn’t bad per se, but the sudden decrease in intensity and gradual movement to a happy, anticlimactic ending just kind of let me down after such an explosive and intense 2/3rds. It’s a nice way to end the story as it doesn’t make you feel as drained as perhaps the more angst-ridden parts, but it’s such a different tone and pace it threw me.
However this is a really minor concern in the face of a really stunning book. I’d definitely rate most of this book close to a 5 but the ending pulls down the rating for me. It’s easily a book I will read again (maybe even in paperback) as it’s incredibly well written and offers a captivating look at mental health in extreme situations. I have a few qualms over CJ’s characterization and his interaction with his sister Cassie is beyond annoying but again these are likely to be reader specific. Lane fans that love her angst work will devour this one while those new to the author that appreciate well written drama should definitely pick this up. If you’re not into something intense or slightly controversial (PTSD) then this one’s not for you.
5 thoughts on “Review: A Solid Core of Alpha”
Excellent review as always. What you said here
“My issue is that the time line skips over the hard work of Anderson’s therapy and gives brief happy glances at the long distance couple of CJ and Anderson.”
reminds me of a recent post by Nicole Kimberling in which she mentions the importance of real time scenes in books and that dramatized scenes are what propels a reader through the plot.
Like you, I love it when an author guts it out and shows us in real time how a character deals with important issues/situations in his life rather than through flashbacks.
Hi Wave, thanks!
I do agree with Kimberling’s statement (what an on point comment to make too) and that is part of the reason the ending of this particular book started to lose me. However I think in this case it may be a catch-22. There is SO much angst in the book already that perhaps the additional angst of the therapy would have drown the book out entirely. It could have overwhelmed the book for some while this is a compromise of sorts. I’m not sure and it’s easy to arm chair what I would have liked to see. I trust Lane though and while I didn’t necessarily like the choices here, I’m sure it was for a good reason.
Getting through the gritty, hard to read emotional pieces to a solid happy ending are always the most emotional, memorable reads for me. Those are the books that have the most impact and I love the most.
Thank you, Kassa– this book didn’t get a lot of attention, and I’m so glad you enjoyed it. As for the ending– there does come a point where the pain feels exploitive. I felt that if I took Anderson through his breakthrough scene, then the rest of it would really just be reliving the pain for a THIRD time–and that felt unnecessary. So many of the things Anderson needed to learn and internalize had already been articulated– after the breakthrough, it was letting them sink in. I gave flashes of progress and flashes of setbacks, and hoped that the arduous year could be seen there. The rest of the book was so painful, working that year over just felt like the worst kind of voyeurism–and possibly repetitive as well.
Definitely a good point about the repetition. Since the story does repeat the trauma (just from another POV) I can see going through it a 3rd time may be frustrating and too much for readers. I also do agree there was a lot of angst already so did we really need to see Anderson being broken down again? Probably not. It’s a sophie’s choice either way you do it. The way it is diluted it for me but perhaps if you’d added it, I’d say too much! (Can’t please anyone can you hehe). I do respect it’s a difficult choice and with good reasons. It’s also why I’m glad I’m just a reader and not the one making those choices.
*g* Yeah… it’s why I love reading other people’s stuff… it’s like, “Whew! *I* didn’t have to make that choice! Thank God!” But it was a hard book to write as well as to read. My beta readers were continually asking me which medication regimen *I* was on, because I had to become so intimately acquainted with madness…