Candas Jane Dorsey,
A Paradigm of Earth
(Tor, 2002)

Candas Jane Dorsey's A Paradigm of Earth is a lucid and unusual "first contact" novel that delves into what it means to be human.

Morgan Shelby's life is abruptly shattered in the wake of her parents' deaths. She learns that she has inherited a house from her mother, a mansion in Edmonton, Alberta, and she moves, looking for some respite from her grief. She takes in housemates, forming a cooperative household of societal misfits and outcasts -- people who appeal to Morgan as kin. Then the aliens arrive.

It's not an invasion; rather, thirteen aliens are dispersed worldwide, adult humanoid in body but with erased baby-like minds. Their purpose is to learn about Earth without the bias of their own cultural perceptions.

Morgan gets a job "raising" one of the aliens, whom she inadvertently names "Blue," which describes the alien's hair and skin color. She is to give it -- the aliens don't have an identifiable gender -- a "paradigm of earth," a framework to help its people understand Earth culture. Eventually, Blue moves into her household, and their lives become constrained as security tightens around the house, directed by an unexpected ally: the enigmatic man Morgan calls "Mr. Grey." As it turns out, all the security in the world is not enough when one of the household is murdered and the killer tampers with the surveillance equipment.

Throughout the novel, Morgan must reflect on and re-evaluate everything she believes as she struggles to answer Blue's numerous questions honestly and help Blue make sense of the world it is trying to absorb. She finds her basic belief in love is what sustains her and helps her endure and ultimately embrace her pain. In turn, she is free to open up to the gifts Blue has to offer as well.

Dorsey's prose is quiet and luminous, remarkably insightful. It resonates with the reader who feels what Morgan feels and experiences through simple and effect language that distills the story into its elements. Morgan's fears, emotions, risks and choices become those of the reader as well.

A Paradigm of Earth is an absorbing tale that has far less to do with what is alien than what is inner common ground that extends beyond the borders imposed by labels. It is a book you owe to yourself to read and re-read.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 26 January 2002

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