Book Review: POD

POD by Stephen Wallenfels. 2012. 9781937007430. Gr 7-12.

An alien invasion story that doesn’t focus on the aliens?  You might say that would be a bland idea for a book, but in Stephen Wallenfels’ new book, POD, the aliens take a back seat to the plight of the humans trying to survive the invasion. The result is a tense and harrowing tale that is completely riveting.

POD centers on two main characters in different locations:

  • Josh, a typical teenage boy in Washington whose usual worries are about chemistry midterms and his girlfriend.
  • Megs, a 12-year old girl in Los Angeles who has led a more difficult life, with her mom having left an abusive relationship, embarking on a cross-country trip to escape her boyfriend.  They have little money left, and a whole lot of uncertainty in their future.

The action starts fast, and the narrative is told in chapters alternating between their individual situations.  A violent, ear-shattering screech is the first sign that something is terribly wrong.  People soon see that hundreds of spinning black spheres hover over the Earth, as far as they can see.  Josh names them PODs, in the following passage:

“I call them PODs, short for Pearls of Death.  They’re pearls because they remind me of a pair of dangly earrings I bought Mom for Christmas last year.  Each earring had a single pearl—round, smooth, and inky black.  They weren’t very big, but if you looked at them just right, they seemed to shine with a mysterious, translucent light.”

Josh comes up with that description shortly after witnessing the power of the PODs.  Looking out his window, he realizes that the aliens are “deleting” anyone who ventures out of their house.  In a blinding flash of light, he sees a neighborhood girl disappear before his eyes.

It becomes painfully obvious that all of humankind is now confined to their homes, or whatever shelter they happen to be occupying at the time of the invasion.  For Megs, this happens to be a parking garage adjacent to a hotel.  Since they didn’t have any money, her mom has gone off on a dubious job interview, and instructs Megs not to leave the car.

Josh is trapped inside his house with his protective father, as his mother had left for a business trip prior to the invasion.  Although Josh initially doesn’t take the situation very seriously, his father immediately begins formulating a survival plan, charting the POD numbers and rationing food and water.

The story quickly becomes one of survival, resourcefulness, and sacrifice.  Megs has to dodge and outsmart opportunistic thugs who take over the parking ramp and hotel, and who control the food and water supply.  Josh deals with his own issues of diminishing resources, often sharing with his father a meal of powdered milk and a can of beans.  The aliens also knock out all electronics, so the isolation becomes even greater, and Josh and his dad are forced to use candles for light and board games for entertainment.

Alien invasion is obviously not a new phenomenon in the science fiction genre.  In books, movies, and other entertainment, it has played a prominent role in the genre. From H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds (1898) to Hollywood’s Independence Day (1996), alien invasions have enthralled us.  Wallenfels’ POD puts a new spin on the scenario, and focuses on the spirit of, and relationships between, people as they struggle to survive.  So, as long as you aren’t expecting Will Smith to show up and kick the aliens back to where they came, I think you will really enjoy this book!

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