Page File Something Coming Through is a story that manages to be all over the genre map but still somehow work. We’re in clear sci-fi territory in one way – humanity has made first contact with aliens known as the Jackaroo, we’re now living on alien worlds and it’s a short hop into the future in Earth time. But otherwise, the book has elements of LA noir detective, the Wild West, space opera, dystopian future, mystery, thriller and more.
Author Paul McAuley doesn’t bother with the explanations, something I always approve of, letting you pick up as you go along that the Jackaroo showed up in Earth’s orbit towing fifteen wormholes and offering folks the chance to use their shuttles to get to other worlds. The Earth isn’t doing so well after some ecological disasters and a limited nuclear war, so humanity is primed to accept help from these strange beings, despite their reluctance to reveal anything about themselves or the worlds they’ve gifted to Earthlings.
These worlds are empty, but they’ve been populated before and, naturally, people start digging up the remains of these civilisations. What they find is alien technology that benefits everyone and the inevitable catch – strange alien ghosts in the machine that can infect human minds.
On Earth, Chloe Millar works for Disruption Theory, a company that chases down these so-called Elder Culture artefacts. She has a nose for these things and that nose starts twitching when she meets Fahad and Rana, a couple of kids that appear to be possessed by an artefact that’s making them draw a strange alien world.
Meanwhile, on a Mars-like planet that’s become populated enough to have a drive-through McDonald’s, an old-school gumshoe detective, Vic Gayle, is working on a murder case that could have something to do with alien artefacts, too.
Chloe’s out-of-her-depth thriller tale and Vic’s police procedural are told side-by-side, while you slowly get to know a little more about the Jackaroo, alien technologies and the new reality humanity is living in.
It should be a jumble of styles and stories, but somehow, McAuley makes the LA gangster bit on Mangala – one of the gang leaders is building a resort in the desert he wants to call Shangri-La, for Pete’s sake – and the techno-thriller on Earth work together to make sense of the sci-fi elements.
It’s also an interesting take on the whole question of what we would do if we got out there into the Universe. Because this human race has just been handed these other worlds, they’ve learned nothing, and busily get to work destroying and exploiting the new planets just like they did with the old one.
What really lifts the book out of the ordinary though, is the Jackaroo. All kinds of First Contact has been imagined by sci-fi writers, but the idea that aliens would come and refuse to even show us their real faces is an interesting twist. The Jackaroo are an enduring mystery that will get readers back for the next instalment. ®
Title Something Coming Through
Release date 19 February (UK/US)
Price £20.99 (Hardback) / £14.99 (Paperback) / £1.99 (Ebook)
More info Publisher’s website