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Book Review: Illegal Alien, by Robert J. Sawyer

Robert J. Sawyer is one of only eight writers to win the Hugo, the Nebula and the John Campbell Memorial Award. If you have not heard of him, then you are missing out on some of the best science fiction to be written in our generation. I first encountered his works in The Neanderthal Parallax. A good and a bad thing, because it remains to this day my favorite of his works. Its almost a shame to come out the gate with the best, but let me say unequivocally I have never disliked single book he has written.

This book review, about Illegal Alien, is late to the party. Very late to the party. Twenty five years really. Published in 1997, I didn't notice the existence of this book until this month, when I was looking through front covers of other books and saw, a title I did not own and had not read. I had to rectify it immediately and I did not regret it.

The premise is captivating of its own accord, and is the meat of a lot of science fiction. Humanity is not alone in the universe, we meet aliens ... things happen. Many science fiction readers will be a long for the ride for this reason alone. As the cover says, an alien kills a human, and now they have to stand trial.

Let me get the few things out o the way that my personal opinion keep this book from being a solid 5/5.

I had trouble suspending disbelief for a time that a) government agents are not with the aliens 100 % of the time. b) that any first contact situation which resulted in murder would be anything other than covered up completely at any cost.

Spoilers begin here...

The book addresses these to some degree. The had already been on earth for quite some time. Many months have passed since first contact, peaceful introduction to the united nations, and an ask for help from our galactic neighbors, the Tosok race, who come from alpha centauri. while hype has not exactly died down, a certain sense of normal has settled in about them. They are more advanced than us, but not unimaginably so. They damaged their ship entering the solar system.

so why after all those months did one of them kill the Carl Sagan character of our time?

The use of trial structure, is a very fun blend of genres and a mystery wrapped into the discovery of the functioning of a different race is top tier. One of Sawyers hallmarks, for me, is that his alien races when used are not human.

When you watch a star trek, or star wars, even if other races have fish heads or an extra set of limbs they are human like. Their values and beliefs and basic structural needs are so like our you understand there is a human behind the mask. Sawyer creates through the exploration of motive and action an alien race which is believably other.

They do not have the same belief structure we do. They do not have the same taboos which we do. They do not have an anatomy anything like ours, or a culture anything like our. This trial shows the differences in assumptions, and the differences in fears and wants that the Tosok experience in comparison to us.

As always the writing is fluid, letting pages fly past while you want to know who did it.

The book is unquestionably structured that ONE of the aliens committed the murder, but because we discover along with the jury much of the evidence we want to believe the lead alien character Hask did not do it.

You will learn the answer to it all within the last 3 chapters, as the books structure keep you wanting to know more to the very end. Sawyer, as ever is a master of promising something early in the book, and delivering by the finish line.



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