Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Answering Review Request "Out of the Gray"

Patricia Gilliam asked me to read her novel "Out of the Gray". It's a science fiction political intrigue focusing on relationship between the Hanarians and the people of Earth. I will examine plot, characters, and polish and then assign a grade.
The first scene is terrific for setting the tone: a human politician and the hanarian ambassador are debating in a senate chamber on a long standing and controversial issue, and their sons wander into the hall because they're bored and strike up a friendly conversation. One of them even lends the other a dollar because a vending machine ate the first one. It does a great of job of (for lack of a better word) 'humanizing' the Hanarians so the following plot will play out like its author wants it to: turn the 'evil invading aliens' trope on its head.

Hanarias are people from another planet that have obviously developed casual space travel. They come to Earth hoping to be 'good neighbors' so to speak. They offer more advanced medical technology in exchange for nothing and the humans refuse because they believe the Hanarians are up to something sinister in vein of the Scary Dogmatic Aliens trope. There are no such things in in this story but there are Scary Dogmatic Humans. The Earth Independence Party may as well be a cult for all the controlling, indoctrination and race fervor they have. This is what I like most about the plot; exploiting political paranoia.

The EIP was born out of human fear of the Hanarians; their platform appears to be 'vote for us or the Hanarians will take over the planet'.  On one hand, this is funny because a politician will talk about these evil, sinister, unrelatable aliens and then the scene will cut away to one of them, who looks nothing but human and is bemoaning the fact that there's nothing good on TV.  On the other hand, it's not funny when people are kidnapped, experimented on, and killed because a xenophobe thinks it's the only way to avert the domination/extinction of his own species.

I detect two problems with this story: one of them is an element of the Evil Plan stretching of my Willing Suspension of Disbelief and the inconclusive ending.

For the first, the Evil Plan involves wiping out the entire Hanarian population with a bio weapon that they developed from something they didn't have until a day or two before they launched the attack.  The scale of such an endeavor; studying the poison, reproducing for proof of concept, reproducing it to the necessary amount to cover so many people, and then transporting all that undetected across space to not one but two planets....it's mind boggling.

For the second, I like a conclusive ending in stories. It doesn't have to be perfect but I want a clear indication that this book's plot has been resolved even if the Big Bad it is still around and still doing evil things.  Here I feel there's more of a 'the worst is over' kind of thing than a 'the day is saved but watch out for the next threat' kind of thing.  I feel like the epilogue would have been better used for this purpose than what is in there.

Overall I like the characters. The main ones are well developed and the minor ones are less so. It's hard to get a grasp on them at first because the story is split between two deuteragonist, Alex Verin and Rica Miller, and they never intersect. Thus, it's like there are two 'main casts' with stories running parallel to each other and influencing each other.

I like Jenard, the Hanarian ambassador, because of his sense of humor. He has an easy-going demeanor and makes jokes, some of them at his own expense. He can also be serious and there are hidden depths to him.
Rica and Alex I also like. They're admirable in their strength and desire to be righteous but at the same time they are not a 'I'm the main hero and I do everything' kind of teenage protagonist.  In this kind of story with what they have it would be weird. Instead, I feel like Jenard is 'the hero' of this story, who is older than both of them put together and a father himself.

Like I said, there are no villains this story but in terms of characters that is a literal statement. The only 'villain' to receive characterization is Kesseler and he doesn't make a formal appearance until after the halfway point. Instead there's an atmosphere that makes the EIP itself a character; a primordial As Long A There Is Evil kind of villain.


I spotted one or two errors but nothing bad or extensive enough to affect the score

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Out of the Gray" a B+

Click here for my next review (which was not a review request): Ophelia

Click here for the my previous review request: Ambrose Beacon

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