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But The Stars (First Contact) Paperback – March 26, 2020
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- ASIN : B086FRR8DM
- Publisher : Independently published (March 26, 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 447 pages
- ISBN-13 : 979-8630850980
- Item Weight : 1.44 pounds
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.12 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,135,505 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I can definitely see what the author is intending to explore - what is the nature of reality and purpose of life - because the first third is a kind of 'Groundhog Day-esque' series of iterations that hammers home the point that human experience is malleable and perhaps ultimately subjective. We meet our protagonist, Flight Surgeon Dante Almani, as a member of the interstellar exploration ship, 'Acheron', and her fellow crew as they (but mostly she) struggles with multiple recollections that fold over each in jarring ways, causing her to doubt her own sanity light years from Earth.
It is no secret that the ship has been overrun by telepathic extraterrestrials, because the Amazon blurb declares it, but it is not obvious what that means because the reader does not get to see them, we merely view their (possible) effect on the ten crew. This includes Jeeves IV, the AI, who supports a strange interaction whose purpose escaped me and which did not seem elaborated later.
It understandably takes the crew some time to figure their situation out, but I just about gave up reading as Cawdron seemed intent on wringing every possible combination of "what is reality" out of the pages. Okay, I get that an author does need to spell stuff out, esp. when the concepts are subtle, but this is quite heavy-handed.
The next third is better, as the crew fight back against their phantom tormentors, using logic bombs to confound the alien brains because 'how could they know' such intricacies of human physiology or behavior? The "will they or won't they" escape aspect then devolves into a protracted discussion with - perhaps? - the aliens about the meaning of life. There is a lot of pontificating and these are typical of many Möbius strip conversations I had during literature classes in my Uni days, so maybe younger readers will derive insight and interest, but for me, too many words were expended to arrive at "We just don't know."
The last third is surreal, a literal jolt in tone that it would be unfair to describe because I cannot think of anyway to do that without spoilers, but the "what is reality" narrative continues with an interesting ending that I liked the intent of, even as I found the execution clunky.
Ultimately, while I think I understand what Cawdron appears to be trying to achieve, the metaphysical nature of the content makes for an unsatisfying read. Currently, these are unknowable topics. We can and should explore them, but the method used here outstayed its welcome. It is not written as a first person novel, but we are essentially locked in Dante's head and I think that constrains the points of view too much, especially the option of an alien perspective. (I did not like the description of the aliens, by the way, it seems a simplistic cop out, even given the ambiguous basis for it.) Her viewpoint is unrelenting and generally unchanging, and there is no narrative arc because we start and end in the same place.
So, unlike most of Cawdron's other novels, which I recommended in my reviews, this one I can't. That should not stop you seeking out his other work and trying it, but unless you enjoy circular reasoning about the essence of life and the purpose of Human existence, this is not the book I would start with.
And it is the Stars and their Position in the night sky that makes such a difference in this
This is a stunning look at the human psyche, delving into the human soul, exploring what are we, what makes us Human?
The story revolves around the crew of the Acheron that have gone to the planet WISE 5571 to explore the planet. The crew are deep space explorers, investigating planets that are possibilities for Human colonisation in the future.
However, as they come into range of the planet, they are set upon by an Alien presence, one that initially, they have no idea that they are even in contact with.
The story is told mainly from the point of Dante (or Dee), the ships Doctor. Dante is a wonderful character, as we get to explore the events from her point of view, seeing everything from inside her head, it is utterly fascinating watching her unravel different things, and the path she takes. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but Dante’s mind is obviously gifted, she has numerous degrees, and has passed insurmountable odds to be on the crew, and even though there is the ships Commander – “Cap” – it is quite clear that the crew of the ship have huge respect for her, and defer to her as well. As we move through the story, it becomes more and more enthralling, and you find that you are completely captivated, trying to work out, what is real? What is simulation?
I work intensely with simulation work, (including the concept of using human in the loop simulations), and found Cawdron’s descriptions (as well as his obvious research on the content), to be compelling, as well as exceptionally well written.
We are told in the synopsis that the crew has been taken, but it is not for some time in the actual story that the crew of 9 Humans actually work out that they are in the thrall of an Alien presence. Dante does have interactions with the ships A.I., and this interaction is one of the really interesting and clever parts of the book. Jeeves IV is a rather fascinating character in this book, but of course, (without spoilers), it is very obvious why he isn’t in later parts.
One of the really clever, and extraordinary parts of this story, and again, showing how Cawdron is a true Master of Character Driven Stories, is the interactions between the crew. This is, at heart, a psychological thriller, with a Sci-fi twist, and the dialogue and exchanges between the Dante and each of the individual crew as she tries to uncover the truth, are not only gripping and intense, but totally inspired.
As I stated at the start, this story really delves into what it is to be Human, peeling back each layer of our Humanity, looking at the physicality, and delving into multiple different aspects of the mind. It is such a riveting journey as Cawdron uses his Main Character to go between each of the other Secondary Characters and kind of ‘interrogate’ them, but through a simulation, without them knowing it, and at the same time, watching as within the simulation, they are pulled apart piece by piece to see what makes us tick (metaphorically speaking of course – well most of the time – but you will have to read to find out!!)
But the Stars is a First Contact in which things have gone wrong for the crew, they are being held and subject to a simulated environment (and for those reading other reviews – No it is not “Groundhog day”, as this would require the same simulation over and over, which was not the case, constructive criticism is helpful, reviews in which facts are not correct don’t help anyone). The simulations themselves are just remarkable, so intricate, but with issues that I won’t discuss to give away spoilers. Again, from someone who has done testing, from a technical point of view, the concept is very clever, given how in-depth it went, and the nature of the simulations. A lot of thought went into this part of the story, giving it a lot of realism and making it exceptionally well done.
For anyone who loves a good First Contact (possibly with a bit of a twist), and certainly with outstanding Characters providing an exceptional storyline that will keep you totally engaged, (glued to it until you finish!).
Cawdron has again produced another Masterpiece in his already Exceptional Library of Alien Contact stories, this is a worthy addition. You don’t even have to like Sci-Fi to read this, it is such a great Psychological Thriller, it will appeal to a great audience, as well as those you love Sci-Fi – Don’t miss out!!
Top reviews from other countries
If you prefer stories that wrap up all of the questions neatly at the end this is probably not for you, please don't leave a bad review if you ignore this advice.
Another excellent book from my favourite writer!
As I was reading the book I went through these 4 stages.
Excitement --> Confusion --> Frustration --> Mind-blow!
The middle of the book was a bit confusing as I wasn't sure, who to trust anymore. It was frustrating and I really felt for the main character.
However at the end of the story there was a big plot twist and it raised very interesting questions of who are we, is this world we live in real or is it just a simulation? What is real, how can we determine this?
The saying ''You are dust and to dust you shall return.'' gained a completely new meaning.
But the Stars, I think, is one of his best yet. It's quite a ride, and like all good sci-fi, it really makes you think.
I'll give no spoilers, just read it!