Tom DeLonge and A. J. Hartley’s Lights in the Skies
UFO’s have fascinated every culture in the world with the opportunity to witness them, spawning countless rumours, tales, explanations, conspiracies… you name it. While in the earlier days lights in the sky generally took on a more religious meaning, in our era of rapid technological development they are generally given a more tangible explanation falling into one of three categories: military, atmospheric, or alien. Though our rational minds might yearn to explain these phenomena with grounded theories, many of us have this part wishing they were actually visitors from outer space. After all, with the array of documented UFO events throughout history, isn’t it feasible for at least one of them to have been an alien? In their collaborative novel titled Chasing Shadows, Tom DeLonge and A. J. Hartley push the concept to its limits as aliens grace the Earth and put humanity on a crossroad.
As the novel begins we are told of an event we are already somewhat familiar with: lights in the night sky. The exception is this time, the masses of people who witness them are humongous, and many know what they saw that night could only be classified as impossible. While many people wish they hadn’t witnessed the phenomenon, four people find themselves affected in rather unpredictable ways. A pilot, a journalist, a prisoner of war and a heiress all find themselves following their own peculiar paths which drown them in a world of otherworldly alien technology. None of them could ever suspect they would have to make choices which decide on the future of mankind… if there is indeed any future to be had in
the first place.
Connecting the Dots
Relatively grand in its scope at almost 700 pages, the narration in this novel jumps from one place to the next as we follow the individual stories of the characters in their own timelines. Some of the places we are taken to include Central Afghanistan in 2014, present-day New York, and 1939 Krakow, Poland. Generally-speaking it’s quite a difficult feat for any author to have multiple parallel stories running together while keeping them all ordained and easy to follow. Thankfully DeLonge and Hartley have achieved precisely that, and I believe it’s in part due to each of the narrations having a singular character to focus on. It’s all written in a very simple and straightforward manner so we never have trouble remembering where one segment of the narration left off, where we are or what the characters are doing.
With this being said, there are quite a few blanks to fill in all the narratives and much of the joy of reading this novel comes from connecting the various dots which begin to appear. As you might have guessed, the four stories are related in various ways and when you start to put the missing pieces together some very interesting pictures begin to form. Needless to say, this creates a veritable array of intertwining plot threads, and some of them are given a sturdier foundation than others, so-to-speak. However, considering we are dealing with a work of fiction, I believe we can reasonably suspend our disbelief and fill in any small holes left by the authors with our own imagination… I believe the story is definitely worth it. On the whole, the structure of the narration is rather ambitious but I believe the authors pulled it off almost perfectly.
When Reality Bleeds Over
Chasing Shadows might be classified as a work of fiction, but there are quite a few elements based on real events to be found. The authors touch on the “Nazi Bell”, “Operation High-Jump”, the Roswell incident, Area 51, the Barney & Betty Hill case, as well as various other testimonies and anecdotes. As you might imagine, a fair bit of it is fictionalized and it can be a bit difficult to discern the authors’ inventions from known facts. However, the goal here is to write a fictional story, and as sorts of lynchpins for the developments of the plot, these events fulfill their purpose with utmost excellence. If anything, this fictional treatment of real materials managed to awaken a curiosity in me into a subject I had nearly forgotten about.
While this is definitely a science-fiction book where much of the excitement comes from witnessing our characters interact with the alien technology and the decisions they make, it also pauses to think fairly often. The authors offer some interesting perspectives on what alien technology could be like, and how the human mind might react to the possibility of harnessing unimaginable powers. The philosophical dimension is never strong enough to overtake the story or the atmosphere of the book, but various meditations on the unknown keep it consistently alive from start to finish. Ultimately, and I believe this was one of the authors’ many goals, the book really made me ponder on whether we should be looking forward to first contact, or try and avoid it all costs… no matter what technology we might gain from it.
The Final Verdict
To close the curtains on this show, Chasing Shadows by Tom DeLonge and A. J. Hartley is certainly one of the more ambitious and engaging science-fiction novels I have had the pleasure of reading in recent memory, taking a very detailed and fully-realized approach to first contact. The individual protagonists and their stories are all powerful in their respective ways, and there is definitely more than enough food for thought for those who enjoy thinking about the day we will meet aliens from outer space. If you enjoy science-fiction stories revolving around the UFO phenomena, I highly recommend you give this novel a shot.
Andrew James Hartley is a British-born American writer of mystery and thriller adventures. He received the 2012 SIBA Book Award (young adult) for Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact, as well as four other prizes for Steeplejack, including the 2017 Thriller Award from International Thriller Writers and the 2017 Manly Wade Wellman Award for science fiction and fantasy.