Jennifer R. Povey
Published April 2013
As soon as I heard about this book I had to get it.
First Contact complicated by the alien’s body language making humans fly into an instinctual blind rage? An autistic savant gifted with languages being the only person able to both remain unaffected by the alien body language and have any hope of learning their language? What a cool idea.
I started reading this book during my lunch break at work. I got about halfway through the first chapter before I had to get back to work. I got home late that night and decided I’d just finish that chapter then go to bed. I eventually put the book down at chapter 14, at nearly 3am.
So, good idea, hard to put down? Five stars, right? Right?
Well… no. Not five stars. This book has some flaws. Enough flaws that I almost gave this book 2.5 stars, but I decided the interest this book held for me, and the ideas it had deserved better.
The problem is, this book feels like it could have done with another draft. Which is extra problematic, because I read a second edition from 2015 that had the pronouns for the alien 3rd gender altered. And yet, there were still instances where the narration gets these pronouns wrong.
The characters also seem to overlook obvious things until it is convenient to the plot for them to be mentioned. Yes Suza, I know you live on Mars and have never been to Earth… but how could you forget that dolphins exist and are confirmed as sentient until 85% of the way through the book? Speaking of dolphins, its established in the first few chapters that dolphins can watch the aliens; they just don’t like doing so. This is treated as ruling dolphins out as emissaries until near the end of the book, when all of a sudden, dolphins can communicate with the aliens after all. Also the aliens we can’t talk to? They know two other races, yet they never think to bring them in to try and act as mediators. They go straight to “oh shit, shall we kill them all or just try to quarantine them?”
I did enjoy this book, but reading it made me feel like I was on the CinemaSins YouTube channel. https://www.youtube.com/user/CinemaSins/featured
But why did I find this book enjoyable despite the problems? Why did I sacrifice sleep for a book that I often found myself disappointed in? The characters only somewhat made up for this. Suza, the protagonist, is an interesting character, whose autism I feel was portrayed well. However, the other characters are pretty uninteresting and most of the relationships in this book feel somewhat forced and rushed.
I suppose I enjoyed this book because of the ideas it explored. We often wonder how we’d handle first contact with very alien aliens, but part of the reason first contact with the Ky’iin goes so badly is because they are so similar to us. I also liked the way the book points out the various prejudices we humans have, and the message this book delivers on the importance of overcoming these prejudices. The journey towards understanding and peace that the characters took was worth all the little things that broke my willing suspension of disbelief. I’ll probably be thinking about this book, and thinking about the way aliens would see us, for a long time. In that regard, Transpecial is a success.
Transpecial had the potential to be a great book. The very idea it is built on, I found brilliant. I had fun reading this, but in the end, I am a bit disappointed. This could have been a great book. Instead, I got a good book.