Book one in a promising new Sci-Fi series
“If he mentions his dislike of series one more time I’m going to vomit!”
Don’t worry, I won’t. I think it’s well known by now. I was unaware this was the first book of several when I agreed to read the ARC of Marvin’s new book Contact. I had read and reviewed M.D.’s previous book about vampires in San Jose, The Calling. It was a promising debut and I was genuinely curious about what would come next from Marvin. Contact is very different from The Calling. Here’s my take on it.
What’s the book about?
I’m sure we’ve all thought about what the day would look like when aliens make first contact with humanity. What place would they choose? Which people/country? Would they be peaceful? Hostile? Judging by the movies made on the theme, from Independence Day to Mars Attacks, we can safely say that two things apply: a) the U.S. is usually the country in the focus and b) they’re usually hostile.
I’ll try to stay clear of any sort of spoilers, but given that Marvin is American, it’s a safe bet that the book plays out in the U.S. This isn’t a spoiler, it’s in the blurb of the book:
A little blue world, the third planet from the sun. It’s home to seven billion people—with all manner of faiths, beliefs, and customs, divided by bigotry and misunderstanding—who will soon be told they are not alone in the universe. Anyone watching from the outside would pass by this fractured and tumultuous world, unless they had no other choice. Todd Landon is one of these people, living and working in a section of the world called the United States of America. His life is similar to those around him: home, family, work, friends, and a husband.
On the cusp of the greatest announcement humankind has ever witnessed, Todd’s personal world is thrown into turmoil when his estranged brother shows up on his front porch with news of ships heading for Earth’s orbit. The ships are holding the Nentraee, a humanoid race who have come to Earth in need of help after fleeing the destruction of their homeworld. How will one man bridge the gap for both the Humans and Nentraee, amongst mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss? Will this be the start of a new age of man or will bigotry and miscommunication bring this small world to its knees and final end?
At the core is Todd, and as the blurb announces, there’s this gap: what happens between “Todd Landon being one of these people” to Todd “bridging the gap”? What’s this “mistrust, terrorist attacks, and personal loss?” I can’t say without spoiling things, but safe to say, it’s well constructed.
A slow start…
The book has a slow start. Unlike his previous work, it takes seven chapters for Marvin to establish the premise, introduce us to the Nantraee, Todd and his family etc. Had this been a standalone novel, I would have criticized this. But given that Contact is book one of several, it makes more sense. The storytelling flows more slowly and M.D. takes his time to introduce us to the world of the Nantraee. The story is told from both the human and alien perspective, switching between on-world and off-world view of the same happenings. I quite enjoyed that.
We also get to know Todd, his husband Jerry, his place of work in some detail. Given that Todd is the main character, that makes a lot of sense. The current political situation in the U.S. is also weaved into the story. Names are changed but you still get the impression that Trumpism is beginning to affect literary works in the States, with authors having to relate to the new reality. It’s virtually impossible to simply ignore it, particularly given the fact that an alien arrival necessarily will involve an administration at some point. Makes total sense.
An abrupt ending…
I found the ending of Contact harder to swallow. It simply ends with the promise of a continuation in a novel called Conviction. Yes, the initial contact is established, Todd is embarking on “bridging”, but that’s about it. In a stand-alone novel, we’d been frustrated. In the context of a series, it makes more sense, because Marvin will have plenty of time to tell his story. I do understand the challenges of telling a “big” story, one that can’t be told within the confines of one book. I’m currently doing the same. It is a fine line we’re walking. Allow me to use the original Star Wars movies as an example. When A New Hope was released, the story ends positively with the by now famous award ceremony. We realize that this is only the beginning, but had George Lucas not been able to secure additional funding, the film would have worked stand-alone. The second movie, Episode V, was different. By then, Lucas knew there would be an episode VI (not just in his mind, but financed!) and the ending, while it worked was much more open and we all knew we’d only have to wait a year or so for the next one.
Contact is different. I presume that Marvin knows that a continuation comes for sure and the story doesn’t end. Only the book does and he has us readers long for that continuation. I don’t know at this stage when it will be released. Given that his debut released a year ago, we might have to work until next January for Conviction to drop in bookstores
Who’s this book for?
Contact is sci-fi light. Yes, there are starships, there are aliens, but the story plays out in the now and mostly on Earth (and Earth’s orbit), so the amount of world-building is limited. Even if you’re not a huge sci-fi fan, this is a book you can enjoy. It is no different than a story of e.g. the first encounters between Europeans and Americans or Africans. What happens, how do the different cultures look at each other? How will they build trust? Communicate? How do you bridge the cultural differences? Personally, I found the latter aspects the most intriguing ones and I have a hunch that this will be Todd’s main challenge going forward. This isn’t a story with phasers and wars, at least I don’t think so.
The characters aren’t fully developed and some feel very square and sketched, but I’m confident that we’ll get to know them better in the coming books. There is no rush. I’m sure all will be answered in time. Personally, I’m looking forward to Conviction and the continuation of Todd’s struggle.