Review: Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows – Tom DeLonge, AJ Hartley.

When you hear that Tom DeLonge has released a 700+ page epic surrounding Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon, and it’s only part one in a series, and the latest in a potential multi-media empire, you’d be forgiven for feeling a little anxious.

Talking to EW, Tom said, “This is not just a book. This is not just Tom talking about UFOs again, laughing about it with his fans. This is Tom representing 10 people that are of the highest rank and office within the Department of Defense establishment and they are asking me to communicate something that they see as the utmost national security issue that has ever existed.”

Blurring the lines of fiction and non-fiction, DeLonge and co-writer AJ Hartley have ended up writing one of the quickest 700 page reads you’ll get through. There’s the pilot who faces an inexplicable system override and finds himself in a shift of career; a woman who travels the world for good causes off her father’s money, who comes home to his apparent suicide and is swept up in a world of big numbers; then there’s the writer for Debunktion, a website for taking down the world’s wildest conspiracy theories.

And then there’s Jerzy. A book of his detailing his life from 1939 Europe, World War II and the Nazis – a book people would kill for. Bit by bit, the stories start to unravel in past and present, with a few added perspectives in the sixties thrown in at just the right time for good measure.

It’s a four-pronged thriller, and by the time you say “One more chapter…” and get to the end, you see which story picks up next and then make the same promise. The research shows. At one point I chose a random name just to see where the name had come from and found myself delving into his Wiki page, reading about his work in aeronautics in World War II before moving to the USA. I’d hasten a guess I could pick several names at random and find their lives woven into his story equally as well.

Writing-wise, though, Tom doesn’t do subtlety. Comments like Feels like a metaphor after an obvious parallel of setting to mood is the kind of thing that comes up time and time again. He doesn’t so much plant clues as put them under a spotlight with LED flashing arrows pointing to them with IMPORTANT. IMPORTANT.

The women could use some work too, (“Jennifer sighed. She could play nice like women were supposed to, or she could speak her mind.”), but these little indiscretions are actually tiny when you consider that despite the scale of it, you’ll whizz through it, captivated by four different stories that gradually work their way together.

Sekret Machines can be slow, but never boring. It keeps you reading. It tackles it seriously, and with fun (Men In Black references are always a good thing). So many stories weave together, blending fact and fiction, and falls more in line with government cover-ups, as security issues, than the tin foil hat crew, and in doing so, you’re swept up for the ride. Some may view the world a little more suspiciously after this; I’m not one of them, but I’m still mightily impressed by how this story has woven itself through history to the present day.

tl;dr Question the potential of the world around you, and that not around you, through four stories that will keep the pages turning.

5th April 2016 | To the Stars / Simon & Schuster

2 thoughts on “Review: Sekret Machines Book 1: Chasing Shadows – Tom DeLonge, AJ Hartley.

  1. outsyder says:

    Came here through Tom’s retweet, dig the review! I’ve only read the first four chapters of the book so far but seeing reviews like this is reassuring for when I do end up getting it. The multiple protagonist perspective could have been confusing, so it’s good to know that it comes together in the end! The length was also intimidating, but if it isn’t a slog, that’s not much of a problem either. 🙂

    I’m not sure if the example you gave for the women needing work was appropriate. I have, but I would say there is an expectation in society for women to “play nice”. It’s a catch-22 in that if one “plays nice” they might not get as many opportunities as more proactive men, but if they do decide to say what’s on their mind, even when it’s still not being done rudely, they open themselves up to further criticism. If it was a matter of cliche female dialogue, bad things happening to them for the sake of a male character’s development, or anything else that showed DeLonge and Hartley didn’t put as much work into them as the men, I’d get that. The “play nice” comment struck me as natural dialogue. As far as DeLonge’s writing of women on other book projects, it’s really hard to say how much of it is his compared to his co-authors, but I’d agree on his women needing more work. Less so a matter of intended sexism, but more so it being part of a general lack of subtlety that you mentioned before. His co-author work with Suzanne Young, Poet Anderson: Of Nightmares, only had female side characters but you might find the portrayals more suitable, still kinda on the nose but workable. Only real way he can get better at writing women is to write more women and get more feedback from women, so I’m hoping for the best on that front! I can’t speak as much on Hartley’s body of work outside of Sekret Machines when it comes to women, however.

    • Heather says:

      Thanks! And the play nice thing is just the only one I had taken note of, but I found there were a few times where comments kind of leaned that way of being stereotypical when not needed or adding much. This is more skewed by the fact I read a lot and it’s a common thing that comes up in writing women poorly is a play nice mentality. At no point thought it was intended sexism! It’s just a common fallback in fiction that a lot of people do, when the characters don’t really need it.

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