Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley is published by Gollancz
Joe Lewis-Bowen is this month’s winner of our flash fiction and reviews competition. His review has certainly inspired us to read Something Coming Through here at One Giant Read and has earned him the much coveted Principia prize pack. Well done Joe!
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the aliens are here. and they want to help.
After near economic and environmental crisis, the alien Jackeroo have thrown 21st century Earth a lifeline with an interstellar shuttle service to 12 worlds strewn with ruins of lost alien civilisations. The plot, centred on exploration and one alien leftover in particular, is developed through two points of view.
Chloe Millar works for Disruption Theory, a London-based quango that investigates mind-altering break-outs of imported alien artefacts. She finds an orphaned teenager, Fahad Chauhan, compulsively drawing pictures of a specific alien location. However, her organisation is threatened by xenophobic politicians, despite her gaining brief fame for defending a Jackeroo avatar from a would-be assassin. When Fahad disappears with his young sister and a police officer who’s against alien technology warns her to drop their case, she goes on the run to follow up their story.
Meanwhile Vic Gayle, a veteran policeman on arid Mangala, is investigating the murder of a new arrival from Earth, which he suspects is linked to the dodgy local entrepreneur McBride, previously stung for trafficking alien artefacts. Vic’s eager fresh partner, Skip, pushes the investigation hard. He discovers a concealed cabin for illegal immigration, then heads off alone to McBride’s alien archaeological site. Vic is forced to chase after him, straight into a literal oncoming storm.
Vic and Chloe’s stories converge in a climatic finale that sees alien biochines awoken and the incomprehensible conflict of ancient rivals, which opens new possibilities for the surviving heroes and wider humanity.
At first, this may seem to be just another near-future eco-angst novel (as masterfully exemplified by The Windup Girl). However, it soon embeds you in core science fiction themes about what it would be like to encounter the advanced technology of truly alien minds. The way that the setting is drawn makes you feel the awesome scope and humankind’s corresponding struggle to deal with it.
The gripping plot is masterfully played, keeping drama, suspense and flow going – often leaving you hanging desperately when the point of view flips. That means you may sometime feel Vic’s narrative stream is treading water. However, that does leave you with a real sense of the jaded but fundamentally right-thinking policeman at work, with eyes still open to the wonders of a new world. Chloe comes across as a real heroine, driven by her strength of character to (eventually) overcome adversities. Both lacked the ambiguous traits of McAuley’s Quiet War characters, making it easier to wholeheartedly get behind them and will them on towards the intriguing conclusion. That leaves the way clearly open for future novels, which I’ll look forward to.