Harry Middleton is born in an America staggered by a century of decline, a time of medical and technological marvels beyond the reach of most people in a shattered economy. Pessimism and despair are more common than optimism and hope, and a desperate government bets the future on space. The lunar and Martian colonies have not provided the hoped-for salvation, so despite an angry, disillusioned public, the first star mission will soon be launched.
Harry is a special child, smart, precocious, his only confidante an embittered grandfather. When the old man dies, Harry is lost, until he meets Lorrie. At thirteen, they bond, certain they’ll spend their lives together, but a year later, she disappears, and Harry is desolate.
With help from his friend Carlos, Harry begins a quest to find her, but he quickly learns how powerless he is. Even the police lack the resources to help. Harry and Carlos can only depend on themselves and each other. An unlikely duo, Harry is an academic prodigy while Carlos is a stud athlete. Realizing that school and baseball are their tickets out of the morass they’re caught in, they inspire each other to greatness in both.
Trying to move on with his life, Harry has a college sweetheart, but as long as Lorrie haunts him, he knows the relationship is doomed. He gains celebrity and wealth, but the thing Harry wants most, finding and saving Lorrie from whatever fate took her from him remains beyond his reach. And always, in the background, are the deteriorating state of the country and the coming star missions.
The Portal by Alan Zendell is one of the most smoothly written self-published novels I have experienced. Zendell's writing is of a good quality, and there are very few mistakes that registered while I was reading my .mobi copy of this book. He has a very natural quality to his prose that kept me entertained throughout.
I enjoyed the story a great deal, but felt that there could have been a great deal more emphasis on the futuristic aspects and the drive to inhabit other planets in a bid to escape the mess created on this world. Zendell pitched a good idea here, but didn't fully explore it. Rather, we have more of a psychological thriller - as Lorrie disappears from Harry's life, and we discover the emotional impacts this will have on his future. This saddens me a little, because I would have preferred much more concerning the state of Earth and the reasons for looking towards the stars. The areas of The Portal that dealt with this really were of high quality, and presented a dark future of what might happen to our own world.
The areas of the novel that I didn't enjoy concerned the "tell, don't show" aspect of Harry's relationships. The novel is written from a first person perspective, so we hear all of his agonising, all of his thoughts and feelings - and yet it never felt very natural. The sex scenes were there more for show, it seemed, than as a way of driving the plot forwards.
Despite this, I would recommend taking a look at The Portal as a decent example of what self-publishing can achieve. Zendell is a writer with talent - one of those who probably would be able to gain a publishing deal with future novels if he continues to turn out work of this standard. Definitely worth reading if you are sceptical about the quality of self-published novels.