A clever combination of two of my favourite genres!
Jun 6, 2010
Editor John Campbell once challenged his writers, "Write me a story about an organism that thinks as well as a man, but not like a man". In "Illegal Alien", celebrated Canadian sci-fi author Robert J Sawyer has risen to the challenge and created the Tosoks, a technologically advanced non-humanoid alien species complete with personal foibles, taboos, culture, language and religious beliefs, even thinking patterns and behaviour that reflect both that culture and the physical constraints of their original planet.
When the disabled Tosok spaceship lands on Earth, first contact, initially tinged with fear and awe is actually surprisingly well handled and peaceful. Earth graciously welcomes the newcomers and humanity seeks to put its best foot forward recognizing the mutual advantages of peaceful co-existence and the enormous opportunities to be had by assimilating such advanced technology. Then Clete Calhoun, a popular astronomer and, to all appearances, the first human friend of Hask, one of the Tosok aliens, is found brutally murdered in a manner that clearly indicates one of the aliens as the perpetrator. When Hask is put on trial for capital murder, it's clear that the implications of the outcome are far greater than the innocence or guilt of one individual alien.
For the most part, "Illegal Alien" ignores the hard side of the sci-fi spectrum. There is some interesting discussion of orbital mechanics in multiple star systems but other than that, Sawyer is content to let such miscellaneous factors as faster-than-light interstellar propulsion or an ultra-fine monofilament that can be used as a razor sharp cutting wire creep into the story in Star Trek fashion with no explanation or attempt to explore the scientific underpinnings. Instead, "Illegal Alien" focuses on the softer issues of first contact, alien diplomacy and inter-cultural communication.
Not a deep story but an interesting one that blends soft sci-fi with intriguing courtroom drama and a very clever, warm twist ending that dovetailed beautifully with my personal hopes for what I am convinced is inevitable contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial species.
I am a big fan of Robert J. Sawyer and consider him the best scifi writer available right now. This book fall in his middle of the road efforts (I give it 3 1/2 stars). Having read such excellent works such as the Neanderthal series, Calculating G-d, Mindscan and Factoring Humanity, I was a little bit disappointed by this one which is more a like a scifi version of a John Grisham courtroom novel. A group of aliens lands on Earth and their ship needs repairs for them to leave. … more
The trial of an alien accused of murdering an Earthman. The accused is a crewman of a damaged spaceship which landed on Earth, and the victim was a scientist sent to talk to them. Evidence reveals the ship was on a mission to destroy Earth, but some crewmen rebelled against the order.