In Review: Alien Morning

This was a page turner, but not a satisfactory one.

Alien Morning by Rick Wilber

Published by Tor Books, November 8, 2016. Hardcover of 304 pages at $25.99 or EBook at $12.99.

The cover: A gigantic alien ship directs a beam of light at forest plain. It’s dark green colors match the hues of the emerald fields. The author’s name and title crosses over the ship, a blurb from Ben Bova is on the right, and the tag line “Aliens have landed and only one man has the inside scoop.” is at the bottom of the cover. Stephan Martiniere provided the art and it got me excited to read this book. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the inside front cover, “Peter Holman is a freelance sweeper. The year 2030 sees a new era in social media with sweepcasting, a multisensory interface that can convey every thought, touch, smell, sight, and sound, immersing the audience in another person’s experience. By fate, chance, or some darker design, Peter is perfectly positioned to be the one human to document the arrival of the aliens, the S’hudonni. The S’hudonni offer advanced science in exchange for various trade goods from Earth, but nothing is as simple as it seems. Peter finds himself falling for Heather Newsome, a scientist chosen by the S’hudonni to act as their liaison. Engaged to his brilliant marine biologist brother, Tom, Heather is not what she appears to be, but Peter has bigger problems. While he and his brother fight over long-standing family troubles, another issue looms: a secret war among the aliens, who are neither as benevolent nor as unified as they first seemed. Peter slowly learns secrets he was never meant to know about the S’hudonni and about his own family. Realizing that he has been used, he can only try to turn his situation around, to save what he can of his life and of the future of Earth.” I don’t read these summaries/teases in a book until after I read them and I’m glad I did so with this book. This encapsulation gives away too many of the book’s surprises, though there are several that are unstated. The text should have stopped after “…has bigger problems.” Overall grade: B-

The characters: Peter Holman isn’t a smart character. Even without reading the inside front cover, a reader will realize after the story begins that he’s being used. Peter doesn’t realize this until later in the book. When he does realize what’s happening he does try to save what he can of his relationships with others, but it just didn’t ring true. His background is initially interesting, but once the aliens arrive, the interruptions of this backstory add no depth to his character and the secret that he’s holding from his siblings is predictable from the first time it’s mentioned. His brother Tom is a much more interesting character, the “smart” child who has done well but goes down a dark path once the S’hudonni arrive. The reactions he gives his brother are realistic and how he ends the book is surprising, refreshing, and dramatic. Sister Kait was once a drug addict but has been clean for several years. She, too, is a good character, because her path does not follow the cliche addict who falls back into addiction. Heather Newsome starts as a dubious character but undergoes a surprising change. Without spoiling anything, even by the end of the book I didn’t know what to think of her, and that made her interesting. The S’hudonni are not a complex race, though their technology is. By the book’s middle their desires are fairly obvious, though by the end somewhat dubious. Again, I’ll not spoil what they’re after, but their goals make for an entertaining read. However, they don’t seem particularly smart enough to be using their technology. I found everyone but the protagonist engaging and that’s harmful to a book’s appeal. Overall grade: B-

The settings: Florida, California, and Dublin of 2030 are the book’s locations. This book could be set in the present day with the exception of the sweeping, a consistently engaging form of media that Peter uses in the book. Outside of this, what a reader would expect of these locations are what one encounters. Overall grade: A-

The action: For aliens arriving on Earth, its inhabitants take them very well — too well. I expected more chaos, even when things begin to go hostile. They do not. There are a few moments where the aliens respond to human contact poorly, but it’s somewhat lessened by how machines saw it. An assassination attempt is made, with surprising results, but again are lessened by the abilities of the aliens’ technology. Chapter 17 has a really exciting scene that steps up the pace of the novel, but due to action from previous chapters, it’s lessened. That happens often: the technology of the aliens lessens the actions. Overall grade: B-

The conclusion: This is the first part of a trilogy and I knew there would be a cliffhanger ending. There is, but where the book is heading has piqued my interest to see where the series is headed. Overall grade: A-

The final line: The final two books could change my feeling about this novel, but on its own this is a mixed bag. I like the characters, but not the protagonist, and I want to know more about the aliens, but I’d like to see one of them be a little more intelligent than the species whose planet they’re invading. This was a page turner, but not a satisfactory one. Overall grade: B

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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