Fiction Reviews


Cavalcade

(1998) Alison Sinclair, Gollancz, 5.99, pbk, 299 pp, ISBN 1-85798-564-8

Alison Sinclair would have every right to be 'T'ed off with me. Not only did we, I, take a few years to review her last book, I've taken as long to get around to this one. Of course Sinclair is based in Canada and it does therefore take a while for her books to get published this side of the pond, and then a little longer to appear in paperback. Furthermore, last time Tony gave me Sinclair's work to review due to the hard SF reference to A. C. Clarke on the back cover. I panned the book on the basis that publisher's back cover claims would deliberately misread readers. However in my defence I did recognise talent and so passed it on to Graham who said that the book was a 'delight'.

Anyway on with this review.

Cavalcade is a first contact story, and a reasonably good one at that for it has a reasonably fresh approach to the trope. The story begins with the human protagonists just newly arrived (teleported en masse) to the alien craft. It appears that the aliens arrived in Earth orbit and told people who wanted to meet them in the stars to congregate at certain places at a certain time and then whisked them off. The humans problems begin the instant they arrive when they find that their watches and electrical devices have stopped working. This is a bit of a bummer for one poor soul who relies on a pacemaker. So drama page 1.

It soon transpires that people have been 'taken' (or accepted invites) from all over the World and that the space craft in which they find themselves contains a number of large (kilometre sized) caverns or chambers, each with a grouping of humanity. Those taken consist of those seeking alien contact, a desire to reach the stars, and a desire to leave something behind them. They also include a small troop of US soldiers who are there to investigate the aliens.

Cavalcade is actually less about the first contact itself and more about what it is that makes us human. There has been some discussion in SETI circles about the potential impact on society if we did detect (or make contact with) extraterrestrial intelligence. (There has also been some sociological flim flam on the same.) So Alison's exploration of this dimension is pertinent. As such it is first a new wave story and, then very much second, a hard SF one. There is good hard SF there. For example, the problem of recycling is dealt with superficially (which is fair enough in SF) but portrayed inventively and intelligently. The book's strengths stem from its characters having to come to terms with their circumstances and, importantly, their own natures.

Sinclair is not a prolific writer, you can count the number of her novels to date on one hand. As such she has not had the opportunity through novel writing experience to develop, but nonetheless she has clearly moved on from her earlier work and she certainly deserves watching over the coming years. Cavalcade has received some critical acclaim, so she is getting some of the attention she deserves: Cavalcade was even nominated for the A. C. Clarke Award (ironic given my previous review) which though it does not mean much in itself (the Clarke Award is determined by a small panel whose past choices have not closely reflected the Award's namesake's work) it is nonetheless a good portent. Keep an eye out for her future works.

Jonathan Cowie


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