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