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A novel by John Coon
(2020, Samak Press)


After mounting a mission to an alien planet called Earth, a young astronomer finds a paranoid military and torture instead of the peaceful society she was expecting.


+ -- First reading (ebook)
Read November 29th to December 7th, 2022


I appreciate the idea, and while it managed to get to where it wanted to go in general, it was tedious. The writing was juvenile, especially at the beginning, but it didn’t improve much afterwards. Even if the story was good, it would have been a difficult read. Who edited this book, and why did they leave it so unpolished? Unfortunately, the situations were so simplistic. These must be the most inept aliens ever. They can change the mind of their king by claiming their rivals will get there first, even though he is deadset against her ideas at first. Then they send a first-contact team that has absolutely no idea how to find the leaders of the planet -do they not have a castle or bureaucrats on their planet? Shouldn’t they be searching for the seat of government? Why would they leave the only two experts at first contact back at the ship? While it was fun to see them at the football game, clueless, there was no reason for it, as a little training during the six-month voyage would have done wonders. According to the story, this isn’t their first first contact; why were they so inept? I was hoping the story would go into actual first contact, but instead it led into a team leader with PTSD, a general who wiped his hands of everything, even though he sent the original probe, and trigger-happy military and aliens. The second half, while a better story of rescue, made the military look ridiculous as well, including the one who turned against his own, willing to kill his own team members. The characters were all one-note without real direction, and unfortunately, there wasn’t enough good here to enjoy.

Spoiler review:

I can often tell right from the first pages of the book if I’m going to like it, just based on the writing style. For this book, it was immediately apparent that it would be a struggle, and I was right, all the way through. I started reading quickly, not really registering what was going on sometimes, just to get through the pages faster. I don’t think I missed all that much, because the author didn’t do a good job of rereading and editing his work, making it more of the serious novel it looks like was intended, rather than the sob love story turned capture and rescue fiasco.

I have to agree with Doni about Xtrra’s leadership skills. He’s not a good leader, being unprepared for first contact at every level. What was he doing in those six months rotating in and out of hypersleep?

Even though the writing was tedious, I was hoping for an actual first contact situation with smart characters. These characters, despite being a master pilot and astronomer, were not smart at all. At first, the American soldiers seemed over-zealous and pessimistic, but it turns out there was good reason for that. The team leader, who should never have been assigned as leader, had PTSD from her previous contact with Rothun aliens, which are supposed to be so mysterious to the plot, except that everyone fears them. Apparently they destroyed a small town a few years ago. So Paige resorts to torture first, and gets angry when the aliens can’t speak English –surely the rangers told her they couldn't speak English from in the mountains, and obviously can’t understand her now, motioning to the earpieces. Then with Calandra, she’s surprised to learn that these things are translators.

So many things don’t make sense in this story that it was frustrating. While I had been hoping for an intense dialog, all we got was a shoot-first attitude, by the soldiers, and then by the aliens. The first alien crewmembers were expendable, and died with barely a second thought, even though it was obvious they weren’t the hybrids Paige was looking for.

I appreciated the author’s attempt to put everything Earthian into an alien perspective, and for some part it was fun to see that perspective. Unfortunately, it wasn’t always the case, as many things that should have been foreign to them were described as if native to the alien world.

The character of Calandra was annoying in her naivete, but that’s how she was supposed to be, so I got around it. Even her refusal to speak after being mistreated made sense. But she was there for a higher purpose, and should have been ready to describe the probe to Paige and Sam, even after the torture. She had such a determination before and after.

Xtrra had more to do, from rescuing his friend on the asteroid to leading the expedition to rescuing Calandra afterwards. Still, he was more worried about his lover than the rest of his crew, making this a clear conflict of interest. He keeps wondering what he could have done differently –research comes to mind, though he never realizes it. Actual leadership –not getting bogged down by rivalries or suspicions, for another.

The rescue goes off about as planned, with lots of gunfights, the aliens with their turncoat soldiers destroying helicopters and marine trucks while using only shotguns, and everyone getting away. The soldiers should have been put on alert the moment surveillance cameras were shot out. Obviously something suspicious was going on.

I also don’t understand Kevin, who turned against his own team, even to the point of killing them, for an alien woman whom he had a feeling wasn’t faking. And when everyone is shown the video of the probe, nobody even considers that it might be fake, despite all of their paranoia. They all look embarrassed and go all “aw shucks”, and let Calandra and Xtrra escape Earth.

All in all, this novel was a disappointment, though it did have a couple of highlights. Unfortunately, there were nowhere near enough highlights to make it enjoyable.


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