An alien parks his spacecraft in orbit and makes contact with humanity. His arrival creates tension amongst the politicians and divides nations and religions, while scientists try to make sense of his message and his seemingly generous offer.
Year after year, sci-fi novels and films keep on re-writing this story of our first contact with an intelligent alien. Do they declare outright war, as in War Of The Worlds or Independence Day, or try to conquer us by stealth, as in The Tripods, V or Invasion Of The Bodysnatchers? Might benign aliens make contact in order to share knowledge or guidance, like Klaatu and Gort, or the broadcasting intelligence in Contact? Or perhaps they’d rather wait mysteriously for us to come to them, as in 2001 or Rendezvous With Rama.
What’s clever about the cagey Metalmark is that he could be any of the above. When he makes first contact, he appears in the guise of a slick, human-like salesman offering a win-win trade of tech for resources: a little of your Solar System, and in return the stars. He’s also a pacifist and an enthusiastic student of human culture, particularly that of the US – but he’s smarter than he appears, and he’s holding back one or two key pieces of information, not least his own, alien nature. Taking the name of an endangered butterfly is a literal and also metaphorical clue to his identity, as well as a cryptic message intended for one of the characters.
I think the most enjoyable aspect of this novel is that there really is a puzzle to be solved, and a race against time to solve it. There’s a skillful drip-feed of clues about Metalmark’s body, or what he might want with Mercury and Triton, and even at the end of the book only a little of the solution is revealed, so there are plenty of unanswered questions to drive the sequel.
Available as paperback or e-book.