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[techbooks] REVIEW: "Illegal Alien", Robert J. Sawyer

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    BKILGLAL.RVW 990910 Illegal Alien , Robert J. Sawyer, 1997, 0-441-00592-6 %A Robert J. Sawyer ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/sawyer %C 375 Hudson
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 25, 1999
      BKILGLAL.RVW 990910

      "Illegal Alien", Robert J. Sawyer, 1997, 0-441-00592-6
      %A Robert J. Sawyer ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/sawyer
      %C 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
      %D 1997
      %G 0-441-00592-6
      %I Ace/Penguin/Putnam
      %O http://www.penguinputnam.com
      %P 301 p.
      %T "Illegal Alien"

      The book jacket loudly trumpets the surprising plot twists of the
      book. This is the fault of the publisher, rather than the author, but
      it does rather detract from the enjoyment of an otherwise very
      pleasant piece of science fiction when you find that all of
      "intriguing" plot twists are predictable well in advance (including a
      weapon first invented by Isaac Asimov, if I remember correctly, and
      re-used in a modified form in such non-sf works as Michael Slade's
      "Ripper" [cf. BKRIPPER.RVW]).

      The plot ... well, the plot *is* convoluted enough, and yet simple
      enough, that to discuss it at all is almost to give the game away
      entirely. Most of the action centres around a trial, the trial of one
      of the first aliens to land on Earth, who has been charged with the
      murder of one of the first people to meet him. Yet, in the end, the
      trial itself is almost irrelevant to the story.

      While there is a token effort to present differing cultures and
      attitudes between the aliens and ourselves (in an interesting reversal
      of recent sf dogma, the aliens are the religious ones while the
      earthlings are the more atheistic), the book assumes a rather stunning
      similarity in psychology. A number of actions take place that, in
      view of the story in its totality, really make very little sense at
      all.

      However, again, this series is about technology. Now, there isn't an
      awful lot of technology on offer in this text. But one part notes
      that the aliens are able to cross interstellar space because of an
      ability to hibernate. Very useful ability, that. They need nothing
      more, to sleep for two hundred years, than a comfortable bed, and a
      cool temperature in order to induce the hibernation state. Now that
      comfortable bed is one thing. The aliens have an arm running down the
      middle of the back, and therefore a slot in the bed to accommodate it,
      and therefore they don't toss and turn much. After two hundred years
      you would have one heck of a set of bed sores.

      However, hibernation, as we know it, does not drop your metabolism all
      that much. Get a good supply of body fat, and you can actually go for
      a month without eating. Bears only have to extend that a few times.
      But even if you were able to drop your metabolism to one percent of
      normal, a two hundred year trip would mean that you would have to pack
      on a two year supply of nutrients. That'd be a fair sized pot.

      The aliens, though, haven't developed hibernation to get them through
      the winter. Or, rather, their periodic winters are four hundred
      thousand years long. Let's say that you can drop your metabolism to
      one percent of one percent. (That would be equivalent to a heart beat
      every three hours or breathing about twice a day for us, just a bit
      beyond the time suggested in the CPR lessons.) You would still have
      to carry forty years worth of goodies, or roughly a lifetime supply,
      to get you through that period.

      Put another way, can you see something living on the same time scale
      that we do, being able to survive for a time that starts to be
      significant in geologic terms?

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 1999 BKILGLAL.RVW 990910

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