A body collapsing with no muscular control onto plush carpeting makes a kind of muffled thudding, all raw meat and cut strings.
–J. M. Frey - Triptych - c.2011
When the aliens came it was nothing like the way science fiction and popular culture had predicted it. There was no invasion, instead they were refugees. Their own planet had collapsed, killing the majority, only a few escaped. Earth took them in and began to integrate them into human culture.
Of course there were plenty of differences.
And then the rumours of a conspiracy started. And the possibility that the aliens were actually invaders, invaders by stealth.
Gwen and Basil were part of the Institute’s team of specialists, responsible for trying to learn about the aliens. Their culture, their technology, their language. They even take one of the aliens into their house. Into their lives. Is it possible that Kalp is acting against them?
As far as I can remember I picked this book up because I’d seen the author quoted somewhere, something to do with gender and female authors in science fiction, and being advised to publish under J. M. rather than something more identifiably female. And the plot of the book itself seemed interesting. I’m so glad I did read it because this book is wonderful.It starts off with the death of Kalp. That’s his body falling to the floor in the opening line, and basil reacting to it. And then suddenly we are in the past, with Gwen’s parents and Gwen as a baby. The story then moves to Kalp’s point of view as he tries to integrate himself into human society. He calls himself “he” even though they are much more gender neutral in his culture. Gender only really matters when you intend to procreate. And finally back to after Kalp’s death, the causes, the reasons for it, and the fall out from it.
It is so well written, every character voice is different and distinct. I really connected with them as they told their stories. Poor Kalp who has lost everything when his home world was destroyed and who is trying so hard to fit in, to be part of Basil and Gwen’s life. All he wants is to find a home of his own.
And Basil and Gwen, who go through so much together.
It’s just a great read. So gripping, I found it so hard to put down.
But it isn’t just an entertaining story. It is all about gender, and sex roles and dynamics. About how prejudiced some people are, and how that can have such huge impacts on other people. Kalp, as I mentioned, decides to take on the male descriptive pronoun, but his lack of understanding of what makes something culturally male or female serves to point out ridiculous we are for thinking that cooking if for women, for example. It isn’t a huge hammer in the book. Kalp decides to be known as male and never makes a big deal about it again, but it comes up in subtle ways throughout the story that his gender isn’t so important to him as it might be to a human.
It isn’t a perfect book. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and really recommend it to anyone interested in a first-contact story of a different kind.