I had high hopes for Rebecca Ore’s Becoming Alien. The author had some published short fiction prior to this book, but I believe the entry in the
Ben Bova’s Discoveries series was her first published novel. It has some promising aspects, but disappointed me.
Tom and his brother Warren rescue an alien who crashes near their rural Virginia house. The two are orphans, with the drug manufacturing Warren as the guardian for his younger brother who is in high school. The illegal trade has made Warren paranoid, so Alpha (as Tom names him) becomes a prisoner, with the remains of his ship destroyed and his chance at rescue diminished. He does not thrive in the alien environment and dies.
When rescue for Alpha comes too late, young Tom is drafted to replace Alpha as a cadet in the Academy. The big worry the aliens have about Tom Red Clay, as he is renamed, is that the human race is naturally too xenophobic to participate. Xenophophia is the constant worry for every species in the polyglot Academy. Most cadets exhibit debilitating xenophobic episodes and plenty wash out when they can’t handle them.
I visited India without anyone accompanying me, and I experienced culture shock that I did not expect. I expected things to be strange. I expected to have to consciously not be an ugly American. I did not anticipate hiding out alone in my hotel room on more than one occasion because of fear. Fear of saying something that would get me into trouble. Fear of not understanding what people were saying. Being overwhelmed with huckster pressure and not knowing how to handle it.
I haven’t ever read science fiction that really attempted to deal with that sort of experience, which should be expected to a degree if we were ever to deal with aliens. While a great idea in theory, in execution it doesn’t make for a particularly great read. The episodes appear from the outside much like reading about someone’s epileptic seizure. Intense if you are there, tedious if you aren’t. And there are a lot of these incidents.
Becoming Alien has Tom Red Clay becoming a diplomat and translator of a sort with a newly contacted world. He’s a pawn in a conflict between the bird-like Karriaagzh who heads the Academy and the primate specied Black Amber, who brought Red Clay to alien space. I could not understand what the conflict was about, other than there is some sort of affinity between primate like species and between bird like species. I could never understand what Red Clay’s part was, or really why any of the Federation species did anything they did. Ore did too good a job making everything alien, to the detriment of the story.
I’m actually intrigued to read more of Ms. Ore’s work because of Becoming Alien though. The concept is really good, and I attribute the problems I had with the execution to it being a work of a writer early in her science fiction career. At least it’s an ambitious attempt.