My new-found interest in Kindle-based sci-fi novels is leading me to tackle books I never thought I’d touch. A friend of mine had a mom who was obsessed with science fiction novels when we were kids. They had this really neat library balcony type thing and it was full of dime store novels in which the captain always looses his shirt in fights and runs off with the alien girl. At the time I thought it was all cheesy to the extreme. I held a similar view of tv shows in the genre until my brother got me started on Stargate: Atlantis. It turns out I’m willing to tolerate a bit of cheese if the science is sufficiently intriguing and the characters are fascinating. The question is, does The Trilisk Ruins by Michael McCloskey meet my now lowered standards?
Well, let’s see. McCloskey gives us a society of space faring humans who’ve discovered countless worlds full of alien ruins. They’ve never met a single live alien…until now! Dun duh dun! But before our heroes meet the alien with a high functioning brain all along his spinal cord and 40 legs we learn that humans no longer live under a free society. The government is increasingly oppressive and no longer allows citizens to own anything but the most basic robots and under no circumstances are they allowed to own alien artifacts. The heroine Telisa is an archaeologist whose access to archaeological sites has been strictly limited by the government. Which is ironic because her father is a highly decorated member of the space marines or whatever the soldiers are called that crack down on illegal tomb raiders. Naturally the girl joins up with some smugglers on an illegal salvage mission to find the coolest alien junk she can get her hands on.
The trouble starts when she opens her mouth. McCloskey’s dialogue is reminiscent of my sophomore creative writing course. It reads like the sexual confused drivel written by the spoiled kid trying to rediscover himself in the absence of his parents. The only thing lacking in this regard is excessive use of profanity and body part descriptions. Every interaction is awkward and dead pan; sterile in the extreme. Like reading a Dick and Jane book. The dialogue is logical and appropriate but any emotion it tries to convey is awkward and unformed. Telisa’s inner monologue is a train wreck in and of itself. She is constantly expressing worry in a way that comes across disingenuous and juvenile. It’s certainly no Ray Bradbury dissertation on modern man.
Based on McCloskey’s loose understanding of human relationships it should come as no surprise that alien’s inner monologues are fascinating and thought-provoking. His ability to describe human interactions from a non-human point of view is the saving grace of the book. Over the years science fiction writers have presented us with aliens that are largely humanoid, or if not they are perceived as vicious monsters. Few writers present us with the possibility of an alien race which complete lacks a basis for understanding humans in the way McCloskey presents. It is a fascinating thought experiment which I for one thoroughly enjoy undertaking.
As a result I’ve found very few first contact stories that I’ve not enjoyed and Trilisk Ruins is no different. The story held my attention but it never gripped me in a summer thriller sort of way. The plot moves along with little discoveries along the way spiced with bouts of action but the alien and its perceptions drive the story.
So what’s the verdict? Does the book meet my new standard? Well it’s not about to win any awards, but I won’t be running to Amazon to demand my 99 cents back either.