A very clever, page-turning plot-twister with a lot of currency in the era of social media and the 2016 election. The best indie SF effort I’ve read since Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Title: not alone
Author: Craig A. Falconer
Narrator: James Patrick Cronin
Published: December, 2015

Most alien disclosure stories feature an immediate, overwhelming response by the government to any leak, and focus the story on how that might be circumvented. But this story takes an unusual approach: What if the government wasn’t *able* to respond in the predictable way? What if it was, say, distracted by current events?

As we saw recently in the 2016 election, our national polity doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Quite a lot of international attention is paid to American politics, and the interests that attention represents are diverse and complex. Some of it is beholden to American interests. Some of it is not. And all foreign observation of American politics reflects a local political environment of its own. After all, as Tip O’Neill used to say, “all politics is local”.

Falconer craftily weaves his narrative from one plot twist to another, with the deft hand of the most experienced JJ Abrams protégé. Most of the story revolves around the young protagonist, thrust into the limelight by circumstances and caught in the midst of a worldwide struggle to determine the truth. But this is just mechanism — what the story is really about is how society reacts and evolves in the age of social media and one-world politics.

At several points during the story I thought I had Falconer’s politics worked out. Then I’d turn the page and he’d be off in a completely different direction. I have to give him a lot of credit for that. When authors dive into political stories, especially these days, there’s a tremendous risk of undermining the story with personal agenda. That is mercifully absent here — the focus is entirely on the story.

More than anything else, and more than any other alien contact story ever has, this book reminded me of Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact. Sagan was certainly not the first author to tackle the subject, and for many readers his work is not the best, but I always felt that Sagan hit on a perfect combination of society-wide politics and gut-wrenching personal engagement. Falconer goes after that same emotional space, and largely succeeds. In a sense that stops the book short of true uniqueness, but I don’t think that uniqueness was the point here. This is a story with a message, but it’s not an ideological one. I leave it to the reader to find.

falconer
Craig A. Falconer

This is the first book I’ve read by Falconer, and I look forward to reading more of his work. It’s long — over 700 pages (about 22 hours in audio), but it moves very quickly. I applaud the author for that length — not an easy task for a new, independent author, especially in this era of ever-decreasing novel length. But as we’ve seen with the new golden age of television and its triumph over film, storytelling benefits from having more time to develop. Good for him.

In the audiobook department, Cronin does a solid job with Falconer’s straightforward prose. He does particularly well at capturing the relationship between Dan and his brother.

Don’t miss this one. It’s a heck of a ride.

 

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