If you appreciate intricate detail in the building of a fictional universe and in the descriptions of the events of a story, you will enjoy this book. Author I.O. Adler builds a future in which Earth’s first manned mission to Mars encounters a flotilla of alien vessels on the run from a powerful “Enemy.” The intergalactic battle that lands in our little solar system results in a global electromagnetic surge that disables the internet and most other systems, which comes to be called the “Big Wipe.” This sets the stage for our protagonist, Carmen, and her sister, Jenna, to be contacted by their presumed-dead astronaut mother (one of the members of that Mars mission). Carmen’s Mom needs her daughters to meet up at an alien space ship she has maneuvered back to Earth to carry them back to Mars so they can rescue her from the aliens.
This, on its face, is a terrific plot for a sci-fi thriller. Heroes ride to rescue their mother, fight off the bad guys, overcome obstacles, thwart the evil plans of the Enemy, and save the Earth from destruction. Right? Wrong. Whatever you think this plot is going to be, it goes in another direction. At least in this first installment, the intergalactic battle, and even the identity of the Enemy, takes a backseat to the specific mission to rescue Mom.
The author slowly reveals the backstory of the group of aliens who are refugees from their eons-long battle with the Enemy. The group includes several different species, each of which has its own physiology, communications mechanisms, and history. Carmen and Jenna – accompanied by an annoying bureaucrat – communicate via another alien called She Who Waits as they try to figure out where their mother is and how to try to get her home. There is virtual reality, multiple chases inside the space ships, bizarre alien creatures who all have different agendas, and a truly complex series of events. Carmen and Jenna must figure out what’s happening, who the good guys and bad guys are (if there are any) and how to cajole, bribe, bluff, and fool their adversaries.
All these events happen over a compressed period of time, so the pages of the book are filled with all the minute details of this strange world in which our heroes find themselves. The details and complex backstories will amaze and enthrall some segment of readers. But, if you are looking for the action to progress quickly and get to some point other than the rescue of Mom, you may find the narrative a bit repetitive and slow. (For example, Carmen and Jenna learn things through many attempts at communication via She Who Waits. Those conversations are often cryptic and dispense relevant information in tiny bits over many attempts.) The main characters have their own backstories set up in the early chapters (which also move a bit more slowly than some might find ideal), but it’s more about the dysfunctional family than the traditional pull of love and duty.
In the end, there’s a bit of a lack of resolution as the author sets up the next book, but that aspect didn’t bother me. What will happen to the refugees? Will the Enemy return to destroy the coalition – and the Earth? We’ll have to wait for another book for those answers. This one is either a fascinating and detailed exploration of several alien races and their internal and group politics along with the challenges of communications between races that have no common language, or it’s a rather slow-moving journey through a confusing environment filled with bizarre aliens that lacks a final resolution. Minds will differ, so if you fall into the category of readers who like the style, then read and enjoy.