Steven Erikson, the bestselling author of the Malazan Book of the Fallen high fantasy series, turns to science fiction in his newest novel. Inventive and engaging, Erikson’s tale tackles big existential questions that prove relevant to our time.
Science-fiction author Samantha August is kidnapped by an alien entity and the world is sent into a panic. The aliens remain hidden in space; when the time is right, Samantha will be their ambassador. While captive on their ship, Samantha can only converse with Adam, the aliens’ AI representation, and watch civilization come to a standstill below. Back on Earth, human activity is neutralized. Force fields dot the planet, preventing humans from exploiting Earth’s natural resources. Humanity’s capacity for violence and retaliation is disabled, leaving the entire population stranded and ineffectual, waiting for the end but hopeful for some kind of life-altering change.
Erikson’s unique take on the first-contact subgenre positions Samantha as an outsider looking in, observing the flaws of contemporary humanity. Her conversations with Adam are surreal and eye-opening: they dissect culture, politics, and economics. In Erikson’s narrative, humanity is not at war with the aliens but rather with their own sense of what it actually means to be human.
Reactions to the alien takeover range from those of the American government to warring nations in Africa, internet junkies, and ordinary citizens. It is here, amid this global confusion, that Erikson is at his most powerful. Humanity’s hubris becomes a liability when the world is stripped of all of its power. The aliens make it abundantly clear that humanity is fragile, but they leave it up to us to decide our ultimate fate.
Through his biting satire of the ruling elite – the American president is laughably naive and bombastic and the Canadian government perpetually ruffled – Erikson lightens his dramatic tale with large dollops of humour. Still, he writes with weight and purpose. This is the book that fans of the speculative-fiction genre need – it is relevant and audacious, and it succeeds in turning the first-contact novel on its head.