NEPTUNE CROSSINGA novel by Jeffrey A. Carver
(1994, TOR Books)
The Chaos Chronicles, book 1
A surveyor on Neptune's moon Triton encounters an alien who enters his mind on an urgent mission to save Earth from a major catastrophe.
-- First reading (ebook)
A simple story with a single main character and the alien that comes to inhabit his head. I quite enjoyed the buildup, and especially the increase in suspense as they tried to figure out how to get around all the obstacles in their path to save Earth. The plan as laid out proceeded as if the problems they encountered didn't matter, though, making it seem a little too simplistic. The techno-crystals, which seem to do magic from "our" point of view, seemed to take on a lot of the properties of the mask in Asimov's Lucky Starr novels.Spoiler review:
This is the story of a man who finds an alien, and who accepts the fact that the alien, a non-corporeal lifeform, jumps into his head. He does a lot of complaining about the alien, gets really mad at it and tells it off at times, but in reality, John Bandicut knows the right thing to do. It's a good thing, as he thinks, that the alien really is there to save Earth from destruction, instead of being part of an invasion force.
The entire story takes place from the point of view of a single character. That's fine, because the character and his interaction with the alien (who wants to be called "Charlie", after some TV show) is well written. Sometimes they are moody together, while at others they are funny. I liked the datanet neurolink, and the way John was able to interact with Charlie in there.
The aliens seem to have everything well planned out. Unfortunately, they didn't count on inept management, which is rampant on Neptune's moon Triton. Humanity is on Triton because they detected a strange metal unlike any Earth-formed metal, and they are out mining it. This was, of course, part of the alien plan, to allow it to interface with humanity. John's incident with the rover when he found the Translator and Charlie gets him suspended from rover duty pending an investigation. He ends up in the mines, where he breaks a leg. Charlie helps him out by healing the wound quickly.
But I wonder how short-lived this species is, as the quarx seems to exist in an energy form, and dies faster as it uses more energy, such as in healing John's leg. Charlie dies, pretty suddenly, and is replaced with an immature version of Charlie, which has to learn over again what the original Charlie knew, and has a slightly different personality.
Then there is Julie, the xenobiologist who hopes to find an alien artifact, but to whom John is very attracted. The attraction is mutual, but Charlie thinks human sexual relations are disgusting, so he interferes at least once with their romance. John has a lot to say to Charlie after that, to which the alien appears to be ashamed.
All the while, the humans are getting closer to the Translator, which is the real brains behind the alien saviors. For that's what it is: it goes from one solar system to another in the hopes of interfacing with a member of a species in trouble, so it can help them avoid extinction. In some cases it is war, and that's the last mission Charlie came from, where Triton was part of that other solar system (the small moon was captured by Neptune from somewhere else, so it might as well be from beyond the Sun's realm).
Finally, when Charlie has healed John's leg, and he is reassigned to rover duty, he is able to return to the Translator to give it the data it needs to help save Earth. It turns out a comet is heading that way, unobserved because it's on the other side of the sun, and due to budget cuts shutting down observation satellites. Perhaps the author shares the view of the aliens, who are aghast that Earth has no defenses against such a threat, while spending trillions of dollars on war. I know that I do! Are we really uncommon in the galaxy in that we accept our violent nature against each other, instead of channeling it toward other species? I think we treat all species equally, just as poorly as we treat each other...
Bandicut is a decent human being, so he is really against the idea of stealing a spaceship so he can destroy the comet on his own (with alien help, of course). This was certainly the most exciting part of the novel. Even though nothing derailed the plan, Bandicut had to do some improvising, which kept the suspense up, and kept me moving from one chapter to the next.
There has to be some miracle technology that allows Bandicut to achieve his mission, no matter how reluctant he is. And that comes in the form of three stones given to him by the Translator. One allows the ship to "thread" space, going in and out of normal space, which was pretty cool. It even burned out the engines, and so needed to be switched from one engine nozzle to another. It even kept him cool and radiation-free when he passed so close to the sun. Lucky Starr did this in Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids, using the miracle-mask that the aliens he found on Mars gave to him, in order to fight crime.
The alien device also allow Bandicut to survive the impact that vaporizes the comet, even leaving his ship intact. Although he ends up outside the galaxy, alone because the second Charlie died after healing him after a ship-board accident, I thought at least the ship should have been destroyed. The ending seemed anti-climactic after the theft of the spaceship, and the final pages, where he is about to dock with some alien space station, unsatisfactory. I assume that's because the readers are supposed to go on to the next book right away. I confess I won't be doing that, though probably I should.
I will definitely return to this universe, as I quite enjoyed the writer's style. I hope the next book continues in the same manner, but answers some of the questions raised in this book -like who are the aliens in the space station, and will Bandicut ever see Julie again?
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