A Review of Claire Holroyde’s “The Effort” – Dennis Villelmi

It seems only fitting that, among other things, the year 2020 should yield the analytical, not biblical, revelation regarding the occasion of mass extinction.  As the eggheads at N have determined, every twenty-seven epochs (you know what, you do the math!) Fate hits the reset button on this humble orb we of the Holocene call home.  In other words, every so often, Doom comes a knockin’, right on our Rock ‘s door.  The last episode was in the ballpark of 65 million years ago; if the trilobites, tiktaaliks, and the terrors of the Triassic had had the ability to scratch a warning in the earth’s strata, it might have read something like, ‘Exitium Para.’ Loose translation: Be ever ready for the grand finale.  Now, we hominids have been an impressively literate species.  Our yellow press and text messages are the latest evidence of that.  We’re also natural born sifters, a skill by which we uncovered the iridium fingerprints of a certain cosmic bad apple that sent most of the Mesozoic world to the morgue and set the stage for our sorry mammalian asses.  Perhaps then, it would be incumbent upon us to give the next bunch of geologic suckers a heads up, provided they’ll have the dual gift of sifting and deciphering.  We can only speculate. And unless the leading minds in quantum physics can finally get their formulaic shit together enough whereby time travel jumps from fiction to fact, there is humanity ‘s literary legacy to leave behind, be there future takers, or not.  In all its riches, the gem of speculative fiction has naturally been one of the best avenues of admonition to exploit.  The possibilities of the genre are endless, till such time our age meets its end.

The Effort

“Heads up” being an operative phrase, I call attention to a book- by now badly creased and with pages falling out- which I’ve been carrying for a good stretch of this pandemic.  I’ve read and reread it; largely for its jarring plotline, but partly for its merits as a crisis scenario guidebook.  The book is “THE EFFORT,” by Claire Holroyde, an author whom we at The Bees Are Dead had the distinct honor of publishing back in the summer of 2016 after discovering her gleaming short piece “Zeitgeist” among a trove of lackluster submissions.   When Claire subsequently informed us of a book on the horizon, I knew a B.A.D. review was as inexorable as the lance of Saturn.

When I received my advanced copy of “THE EFFORT,” it wasn’t long before the debut of the novel coronavirus.  I’m not going to say that there’s an element of prophecy at play here; however, the timing is relatively propitious.  As Claire herself recently said, “THE EFFORT was written in mid-2016–2018 with edits and additional chapters in 2019. I had no idea that I would be selling pre-apocalyptic fiction during a pandemic (and neither did my publisher.) I’ve already heard readers calling the work prescient, but that cuts both ways depending on the reader.”
Regardless of any clairvoyance it may be imbued with, “THE EFFORT” signals a coup that will undoubtedly secure for Claire Holroyde an enviable place in the domain of science fiction.

The narrative opens midsummer in an astronomical observatory in the American Southwest.  Two vigilant members of the Spacewatch project have detected a hitherto unknown object in the neighborhood of Jupiter.  This object, a comet, will be christened UD3.  In the wake of seasonal zombie offerings, as well as the past year’s coverage of conservative political ineptitude vis-à-vis real-time virology, the idea of humanity ‘s downfall coming from up on high is refreshing.   It’s also well within the realm of possibility, as any astronomer acquainted with the Apophis asteroid will tell you.
“I wanted the inciting incident to be more realistic, like an asteroid or comet. Dark comet UD3 was necessary, but it’s not the focus of the book—just the means to an end,” Claire explains.


Indeed, the spotlight isn’t so much on UD3, but on the global response to its impending arrival- the good, the bad, and the downright gory.  Utilizing an eclectic assembly of characters, Miss Holroyde deftly explores all facets of the doomsday scenario. Through Ben Schwartz, NASA’s point man in the field of interstellar jeopardy, and his plucky lover Amy, we experience determination and the anguish of theoretical science thrust to the forefront of emergency.  Through Love Mwangi, United Nations master linguist, we develop a greater appreciation for the dilemma that can arise when professional obligation is weighed against personal commitment. Through Zhen Liu, engineering prodigy, we get an authentic sense of feeling excluded by cultural taboos, ad well as the frustration one suffers when working in the context of inflexible political dogma.  And by acquaintance with Jack, Maya, and Gustavo (put this book on your 2021 reading list and their unique backgrounds will have your eyes scanning the vista of years beyond) we trace lines from despair, regret, suspicions on through to solidarity, hope, and renewal.  The interplay between the characters against the backdrop of near certain annihilation is the actual strength of “THE EFFORT.”  In this respect, Miss Holroyde excels  where quite a few science fiction authors haven’t, demonstrating us that in any tale what matters most is the human dimension.  And in a manner remarkable for an author recently arrived on the scene, she weds storytelling to commentary so as to show us that we are not simply participants subject to the twists and turns of Fate, but a species unique enough to take stock of and deliver ourselves where the beings of previous epochs couldn’t.  In a world where we are further confronted by the consequences of fossil energy, that is a nudge sorely needed.

“THE EFFORT” -a true jihad in the genre of Ultra Doom futurism, beautifully imbued with the requisite trinity of science, suspense and speculation.  A must for any shelf already laden with the likes of Bradbury, Burgess, Herbert, and PKD.  Grab your copy before the end draws near.

-Dennis Villelmi


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