Top critical review
I almost gave up reading this
Reviewed in the United States on April 5, 2020
Cawdron has a fascination with the first contact science fiction trope, and has written some terrific novels about it. This, for me, is not one of them.
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.