Monday, March 03, 2008

Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro

(Acquired: EOS Advanced Reader Review copy)

Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro is downright bizarre and completely compelling. I chose this book because it was about futuristic diplomacy, but the very beginning shows just how broad that definition is. This is a science fiction novel, that much is clear from the first page, but really it's a psychological thriller. There's so much going on that doesn't quite make sense but at the same time you're right with Andrea Cort as she tries to put the pieces together, hampered by her own limitations. I did have a point when I wondered if there were any clues for me to put together. I'd collected some, but none of them offered up a clear sight of an answer, so I questioned if the book had that ability. By the end, that concern was dismissed wholeheartedly. Not only had the clues I'd collected actually come to have meaning, but I'm kicking myself for missing something obvious, something that the other characters missed as well because they were thinking too narrowly, but I normally do better.

On the diplomatic side, this is more of an anthropological novel with the diplomats responsible for first contact. However, I can easily make the leap that those functions would become entwined as first contact and species relations became a matter of policy rather than academia. The world this novel is set in has levels of complexity that build on each other and provide fertile ground for the related novels hinted at to come. At the same time, the relationships and situations brought up within these pages make sense. Both the look at bureaucracy and the corporate extreme, while pessimistic, have clear seeds in our current world. This is a logical extension of humanity as existing today, with the added levels of other sapient species, including non-human artificial intelligences that spawned out of biological cultures that have long since died out.

Which brings me to my greatest surprise. I'm avoiding spoilers because this book is definitely one you need to experience in the order given to comprehend the results, but I do want to comment on the ending. As I approached the last few pages, I experienced a vague dissatisfaction because I was sure there was no way to wrap up some of the bigger layers, the ones outside of the scope of Andrea Cort's actual investigation. The investigation wrapped up if not tidily then at least appropriately considering the aims of all those involved (there were some facts that were to be suppressed no matter what, or so Cort was told in her initial briefings). And that was the surprise. After I'd given up hope, after I'd assumed the issue in mind would be spun off into a sequel, resolution happened. Not closure as there are definitely the seeds of another novel to come, but resolution. I hadn't given Adam-Troy Castro enough credit.

So going back to my original statement, this book was bizarre, strange, weird, not what I was expecting, and I'd definitely recommend it. Many were the times when I struggled to put it down because I had other things I had to get done; I often enough thought, "just one more scene," or "I'll read to the end of the next chapter," because I didn't want to step out of the kaleidoscope that was life on One One One.

If you like thrillers, the twisted works of the human mind, first contact, seeing the dangers of bureaucracy, and half a dozen other things people enjoy, there's something here for you.


Holly said...

Sounds very promising. I'll look up a copy. Thanks for the recommendation.

Margaret said...

Hope you enjoy it too. I'd be interested in seeing what you thought considering my own reactions.