BOOK REVIEW: SOMETHING COMING THROUGH / AUTHOR: PAUL MCAULEY / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
The promising tagline welcoming the reader states ‘The aliens are here. And they want to help’. Well, or so they claim. Something Coming Through is the latest novel from Paul McAuley, who also penned Fairlyland and the Doctor Who novella Eye of the Tyger, as well as many other science fiction books and short stories.
The story features an alien species called the Jackaroo, who make first contact with Earth after the planet has been ruined by nuclear and environmental disaster. They offer to help the human race recover by giving humanity 15 habitable new planets and the technology to reach them without it taking a lifetime to get there. Jam packed full of ideas and excellent world building, the chapters alternate between investigations on Earth and a murder investigation on one of the colony planets.
Throughout the novel Paul McAuley does an excellent job at creating a sense of mystery and suspense, which is often missing from the alien invasion genre. After alien artefacts are found on the new worlds, the human characters are forced to question whether the Jackaroo really arrived to solve all of mankind's environmental and geopolitical problems, or do they have other motives? What happened to the former inhabitants of the 15 planets mankind have colonised?
A big problem with creating a convincing alien species is making them completely different to anything on Earth but similar enough so that human characters can interact with them. The author, however, solves this problem by having the aliens make contact via quasi-organic avatars instead. The fact that we have no idea what they really look like adds to the mystery and suspense.
As well as James Cameron's science fiction film Avatar, the novel also seems to have taken inspiration from Nigel Kneale's Quatermass and the Pit, particularly the way McAuley mixes supernatural elements like ghosts with extraterrestrials. Full of exciting plot twists and an intriguing mix of human and non-human characters, this murder mystery set in a dystopian backdrop is future history at its very best.