THE CHOSEN TWELVE by James Breakwell
Rebellion, pb, £8.46
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
THE CHOSEN TWELVE is set on a decaying moon base, orbiting the planet where the ruins of humankind’s last colonisation attempt failed. There are twenty-two people on the base. All that is left of humanity. They have one lander and one shot at making it to the planet below to start a new colony. But they have a serious problem. The lander only has twelve seats.
This is the starting premise of THE CHOSEN TWELVE, but it gets much more interesting very quickly. The twenty-two are children, kept artificially young for decades by the digitals, and smart robots are training them for their colonisation attempt. The digitals need the organics, as they call humanity, to succeed, so they can build more digitals, allowing them to fulfil their destiny of spreading digital life through space. Unfortunately for the organics, only a small cadre of the digitals are on their side. Most of the rest of the robotic life on the base is homicidal. The story kicks off when the leader of the digitals decides the time has come for the colonisation attempt and the twelve have to be chosen.
THE CHOSEN TWELVE reads in part like a re-telling of LORD OF THE FLIES, with a strong thread of satire running through it. As the launch date nears, the inevitable happens between the twenty-two organics. This is helped along by the leader of the digitals, who is nicely written as a scheming, devious liar, a turn lightened by his long-suffering attempts to train the twenty-two in the survival skills they will need on the hostile planet below.
The twenty-two are, in their turn, delightfully useless, lazy, self-absorbed, stubborn, rebellious and completely unable to grasp the fate that awaits them. It’s here that the story feels more like a satire on our own inability as individuals and as nations to put aside the trivialities and take up the challenges that face us.
The twenty-two have no names; they’re identified by Greek letters. There’s no real description of them beyond their respective genders. But the highlight of the story is how they are brought to life, each with their own flaws. There is a hero in Delta, the girl who rebels against the digitals. But she’s not centre stage the whole time; the point of view switches between the twenty-two, lingering longer on some more than others. It distances the reader from the characters somewhat, but given how maddening most of the twenty-two are, this might be no bad thing.
There are one or two holes in the fabric of the plot and a couple of ‘Deus ex-Machina get-outs, but this isn’t hard sci-fi, so if you can forgive these and move right along, THE CHOSEN TWELVE is a different and original take on the survival in space genre and well worth picking up.