Matador p/b £11.49

Reviewed by Nigel Robert Wilson

Artistically speaking this is a beautifully planned, well-presented and intensely written novel. From the very first it appears to be a serious science-fiction, hard-metal adventure into the first Earth contact with aliens from outer space; however, consciously or unconsciously, it evolves into a rather devastating piece of political satire. Either way, it represents good value.

The early chapters have a comfortable atmosphere reminiscent of John Wyndham’s many science fiction novels in which life is normal and pleasantly routine until it is inverted by unexpected events.

The story starts in recent times with Theresa May in No.10 Downing Street struggling with the tentacles of Brexit, along with you-know-who in the White House who makes a guest appearance towards the end of the book; so good, so good! An interplanetary confederation called Gaya based in the Pleaides has advised through a Professor Kitteridge of the Cosmology Department of Cambridge University, a sort of Stephen Hawkins figure, that they plan to make contact with the authorities on Earth.

The endearing quality of these Gayans is that outwardly they are human, mostly just like us. This is a very rational approach to alien identity because by removing the monster trope the opportunity for a small, conspiratorial advance guard of aliens can be included. A lot of the tale is about how this team, which has been long established on Earth, manages to organise first contact. The main difference between this team and ordinary humans is that they have access to advanced technology, are telepathic and in some cases, reincarnations of agents who have served on this planet in previous ages.

There is, however, a race called the Spargar, inhabitants of the Hyades star system, who are in competition with the Gayans and they too have an advance team active on Earth. These are the mean little guys who abduct humans, take them up into spacecraft, stick probes in them and then restore them to their beds. Their protective equipment makes them look like alien greys. West is ingenious in the way he weaves alien abductions into his plot. He manages to keep the many cultural corners involving aliens tagged and competently built into the story.

Now the Spargans have a problem in that the Gayans have marooned one of their leading figures on a planet far out of the way. This induces the Spargans to resurrect a problem-solving entity called a Rakul to find this missing leader. He arranges a task-force to enter Earth’s atmosphere to intimidate not so much the inhabitants of Earth, but the Gayan team already on Earth. West produces a lot of narratives devoted to technical matters which will excite the geeks and probably keep them absorbed for a decade or two.

The Rakul has a meeting with the Gayans in a Cambridge pub. Then the American government begins to get involved, which is where the satire really starts. It is a delight to find an old joke about Eye-Rack has been brought back from the dead. The Gayans are set on a first contact involving all the nations of the Earth at a neutral location, but you-know-who insists upon it happening on the lawn outside the White House. This illustrates the point that inevitably it will be the aliens who will choose where they make first official contact, not human politicians.

Furthermore, the Gayans have principles about the quality of human leadership. They are opposed to political corruption, poor leadership and moral depravity within the ruling class. It is this which becomes the sticking point. The politicians want the technical advances but are they capable in return with providing the moral integrity to justify such advances? How can that be answered?

This is a very big tale, and this review is light in the touch, but the book is a worthy read. West has done a good job in illuminating the issues that any first alien contact might entail.