by Edward M. Lerner
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0743498852
Date: 01 February, 2005 List Price $24.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
When an alien tramp freighter stumbles across humanity's radio wave front the opportunity for first contact with an emerging technological civilization is too good an opportunity to pass up. Not because of their interest in cultural anthropology, offering us induction into the greater galactic brotherhood or even because they think they might sell us some trinkets...but because we look like a good location to film a movie. Unfortunately for us, the biggest box office draws across the galaxy seem to be the same. Everybody loves a disaster movie, especially if it?s happening to someone else.
Kyle Gustafson is a rare breed in fiction, a presidential science adviser who not only knows what he's talking about, but also manages to get politicians to listen to him; some of the time, anyway. When an alien spaceship pops into the skies over Earth and settles down for a landing at Reagan National Airport, he's thrilled to be the man on the scene, the president?s eyes and ears, and the head of the commission to figure out who, why, and what's next for our first contact. He's not so thrilled to be one of the few who aren't in such a hurry to trust the extended pseudopod of peace offered by the seven-foot tall creatures from the stars.
As the story unfolds, it turns out that he has good reason for his misgivings, and whatever the motives of the aliens, one thing is for sure...they're not here to spread peace and love. Maybe it's just a coincidence that Cold War tensions have suddenly started heating up again, and maybe its a coincidence that American and Russian spy sats are dying off before their time, and maybe we shouldn't be so suspicious about why the giant mothership is parked in lunar orbit where we can't take a close look at it...but maybe not. When an alien scientist with a limp manages to steal a shuttle and defect, Kyle has to decide if she is a defector or a spy, and to convince the administration to act on what he's learned.
The reverse viewpoint of this story is fairly old hat. Human explorers come across an alien society and disguise themselves thorough media magic to appear as gods or invisible observers or even as the aliens themselves. Our purposes are generally benevolent in these stories; in fact, the whole notion of contaminating an alien culture usually is predicated by an imminent disaster. An excellent book and case in point is Jack McDevitt's Omega (SFRevu Dec 2003) in which scientists try to stop a destructive cloud from destroying an alien culture with teleoperated robots and media tricks. Here everything is reversed, we're the primitive aliens, and the motives of the starfarers aren't pure at all. Neither story is inconsistent with human behavior, naturally, and who knows? There may be an ethics committee back on the alien home world that would be appalled at what's happening on the third rock from our sun, not to mention what's happening on the moon. But for now we'll have to fend for ourselves against aliens with beam weapons that can track and destroy asteroids at relativistic speeds, who have fusion drives in their shuttle craft, and oh yes...there's that mothership orbiting the moon. Readers of either author should like the other, by the way.
I generally think that the adage "you can't tell a book by its cover" is silly. You can certainly tell what the publisher thought of the book, or at least have a pretty good idea how much they were willing to sink into promotion. Moonstruck's cover was done by Doug Chaffee, and while he's done some excellent artwork, notably submarine stuff, the cover he turned out for this book does nobody any favors. If he does the next cover, hopefully it will be as good as the one he did for The Martian Chronicles (1986), or Gatekeepers (1994).
If I have any complaints about the book itself, it's that I wanted more of it. At just under 300 pages the reader isn't shortchanged, but things happen pretty fast, and I'd have enjoyed more detail. I like the combination mystery/adventure that builds up to a confrontation with the aliens, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens next, though the book wraps this chapter up fairly well. Recommended.