My Blurb: Ichiro Sato has committed a terrible sin. He survived. When the crew of the TNS Aurora makes unexpected first contact with a hostile race, midshipman Sato is spared from the slaughter in order to serve as the alien race’s Messenger, harbinger of humanity’s impending doom. They are going to invade. On the planet Keran. In two years. What kind of aliens are these? They kill everyone aboard and then give us enough warning to prepare for the coming fight? But is mankind ready to take the warning seriously? Or will politics and power jockeying leave us with our pants down when the fighting starts?
My Review: I’ll start by saying that space war is not my usual thing, but even so, First Contact is a wild ride. One of the strongest indie books I’ve read in a while. This is an ensemble piece, with a number of POV characters carrying the camera through a frenetic interweaving of politics, military operations, and human drama. But despite the scope, it still manages to stay up close and focused on just a very few of those humans. The pace is excellent, the aliens are sufficiently alien, and the people are varied and distinct, for the most part. At times, I found myself struggling to remember which general was which. Or were they admirals? And who was it who still had the grenades? But that’s exactly what I would expect to experience in the fog of war, as events accelerate and outpace our ability to keep it all neat and tidy in our heads. Ultimately, this is the story of one young man, and the choices he makes that will effect us all. I can only hope that when the time comes, we have somebody like Ichiro Sato on that first contact ship.
If there’s any substantial cricitism, it’s one that applies to most of modern science fiction—not just First Contact—and it’s this: There’s nothing really science-y going on. The thing that really appeals to me about science fiction is the technological prognostication, and then the deep consideration of implications arising from that technology. This is not that. This is a space opera with a dark bent. An excellent yarn about a possible first contact with aliens. A bit far-fetched, when you look at the political viability of the alien culture, but still, a damned fine story, filled with excitement and gee-whizzery.
I will also say that the titling of this series is a bit odd. The cover says Book 4, even though this is the first book in the series. I think that’s because this is the fourth book written about this universe, but it’s the first book in this series, which is a prequel series to the first three books. Confused yet? Me too. But it doesn’t matter. This book is definitely a beginning – we’re not joining some pre-existing adventure, already in progress. And while I haven’t read the earlier three books, set later in the timeline, I don’t think having read this will ruin anything. More likely, it will give me a deeper sense of connection to those later stories and characters. But I’ll be reading them soon, so I’ll let you know.