Dirk and his boyfriend Dylan are heading home for the Christmas holiday when their travel plans are interrupted by an alien attack on O'Hare. Meteors crash down, exploding airplanes on the runway and pulverizing the terminal, only to reveal a handful of muscular, extraterrestrial Schwarzenegger-like killers. Before the TSA can cop a quick feel of the would-be travelers, heads are flying, literally, as the passengers find themselves under siege. Separated from Dylan in the attack, Dirk is forced to fend for himself and repeatedly test his own wits in a nightmarish life-or-death struggle.
The Terminal is a welcome dose of pulpy fun, and the pacing is pretty rapid-fire straight from the get-go. There are no chapters and only one scene break in its 112 pages -- this novella is designed to be read in a single sitting, with the reader catapulted head over heels straight through the mayhem. This works, for the most part, and by not giving the reader time to pause to collect themselves, they're not afforded a chance to recognize the inherit silliness and some of the bumpier aspects of the plot straight away. This book is a race from beginning to end, the kind you strap yourself in for and enjoy. But, once the ride is over you start to notice some of the more dissatisfying aspects.
Although Dirk isn't the most likable protagonist with his instant hate toward several of his fellow holiday travelers (granted, I'm sure we've all been there, though, so that's at least realistic) and constant pop culture references (when the action gets going, he imagines himself being like John McClane, and the aliens rip out human spines like they're performing a Mortal Kombat fatality), he's fairly sympathetic and thrust into a situation way over his head. He's also a bit of a nincompoop, with zero knowledge of guns (apparently his video game tastes never stretched toward Call of Duty) and little in the way of survival skills. While he comes across as a bit too much of a blank slate at times, he does develop some nice, if often short-lived, relationships with the few survivors he encounters.
Frankly, I could have done with more human elements throughout. Even with the mass casualties resulting from this very random alien incursion, O'Hare felt oddly desolate. While Dirk does stumble across a handful of survivors, I couldn't help but feel like there should have been more signs of life, or at least more glimpses of ill-fated travelers. Maybe Dirk just has some exceptionally narrow tunnel vision, a prognosis that certainly feels in tune with the man. When he does have reason to connect to one of the survivors, a military man recently returned home from war in the Middle East, we're robbed of the emotional and possibly physical payoffs the story had been nurturing. The built-in conflict between these two characters should have given The Terminal are more propulsive finale, but instead we're rushed through an ending and a sudden finish to the book.
The Terminal has its weaknesses, but it also has its strength. Amber Fallon writes some good gory material here, and the book's premise is wonderful. In some ways, this novella reminded me a fair amount of Dawn of the Dead. Swap out a mall for an airport, trade in the zombies for aliens, and take a bit of inspiration from another Christmas classic, Die Hard 2: Die Harder, and you've got yourself an exciting bit of action-horror.
This work left me wanting more, and in this case I consider that a positive sign. While not all of the elements gel perfectly, I would definitely take another trip through these terminals should Fallon ever write an expanded version or offer a follow-up or companion novel. The Terminal is not a bad first publication from Amber Fallon, and it certainly shows enough signs of promise that I'll be checking out more of her work in the future. In fact, I've already got her sophomore effort, The Warblers, loaded up on my Kindle.
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