Author: Jennifer Foehner Wells
Published: June 2014
NASA discovered the alien ship lurking in the asteroid belt in the 1960s. They kept the Target under intense surveillance for decades, letting the public believe they were exploring the solar system, while they worked feverishly to refine the technology needed to reach it.
The ship itself remained silent, drifting.
Dr. Jane Holloway is content documenting nearly-extinct languages and had never contemplated becoming an astronaut. But when NASA recruits her to join a team of military scientists for an expedition to the Target, it’s an adventure she can’t refuse.
The ship isn’t vacant, as they presumed.
A disembodied voice rumbles inside Jane’s head, “You are home.”
Jane fights the growing doubts of her colleagues as she attempts to decipher what the alien wants from her. As the derelict ship devolves into chaos and the crew gets cut off from their escape route, Jane must decide if she can trust the alien’s help to survive.
I kinda want to go fangirl on this one. This isn’t your dad’s sci-fi. This book blurs some genre lines, makes a heroine out of an academic linguist, and delivers a book that is just as appealing to women as it is to men. I’ll admit, I saw the beautiful cover and thought it was going to be old-school, hardcore sci-fi with lots of technobabble and women in service roles rather than command ones. By the time we got into space I was hooked, and only got more engrossed the further I went.
Sci-fi and space opera for a female audience is a hot trend on the brink of happening. Jennifer Foehner Wells and other authors like Rachel Aaron are on the front edge of that trend. Geek girls and the men who love them are a burgeoning market just begging to be found. As a total trekkie, recovered gamer, and big fan of science, I am all about waving my phaser rifle and going warp speed into this movement. (Too much? Couldn’t control the geek-out, sorry.)
Characterization and badassery
Jane Holloway is a linguistic phenom, and an unintentional badass. She doesn’t orchestrate the events in her life that result in her leading others and saving lives. Yet she has a tendency to do that when the chips are down and tensions are high. It’s great to see an academic getting a chance to be a hero, as it doesn’t happen very often.
Plot and pacing
There’s no flab in this book. It starts out strongly and each scene is carefully considered in how it develops the characters and advances the plot. The pitch rises gradually until leveling off at the end, just as it should.
Prose and editing
The prose is straightforward and lets the reading just flow. Dialogue made sense and there weren’t too many narrative sequences. Again, Jennifer Foehner Wells has taken care in crafting a balance of elements.
There are some editing errors, but no more than you might find in a trade published book. Actually, I’ve seen some trade books that were far worse. There was nothing that detracted from the book.
When you’re on an alien spacecraft and you don’t know what slimy thing is about to jump out at you, and you don’t know if you’ll be alive in five minutes, you really don’t have time to plan your comedic timing. Very much humor in this book would have diminished the sense of stress and urgency in the book, which is a vital factor.
“She hated it, hated its shrouded body, its way of moving, always upright, always in a single plane.” (I love this whole scene. The perspective shift is brilliant.)
I only have two nits to pick with this book. One is the approach to guns onboard space vehicles. It seems energy discharge weapons would make far more sense than traditional projectile weapons. Klaxons and “hull breach” notifications would be the obvious result. The other nit is the ending, which didn’t quite hit the right note of completion. A setup for the next book in the series is necessary, but it feels like this book kind of coasted to a stop. There was no real delineation between the end of this story and the beginning of the next one.
But these nits don’t really bother me. This is a pretty special book. It’s a modern take on sci-fi, and has a lot to offer. There’s a light romantic subplot, a first-contact scenario, and a high-stakes situation that seems unclear, then clear, then unclear again. This story isn’t predictable and it doesn’t rely on any timeworn tropes. Fluency is something new in fiction, and that always excites the hell out of me.