Kevin D. Randle,
The Exploration Chronicles #1

(Ace, 2003)

Signals is a book purportedly about aliens, but the author writes with facility about the human psyche and this first part of The Exploration Chronicles really leads up to the encounter by studying the reactions of human beings to the sudden truth that something alien and intelligent is approaching Earth.

Set sometime in the 21st century, we have the scientists of S.E.T.I. and allied universities tentatively surmising that the faint signal detected some 50 lightyears away from our world may be from an artificial source. We have the career politician, who despite his calculating ambition fails to realise the full cost of his scare-mongering. Joining him on the shaking publicity ladder that may lead to success or a hard fall: a TV reporter, a lazy rich-boy astronomer and a UFO investigator. Inevitably, given both the story angle and Kevin Randle's background, we also have the presence of the army. This melting-pot of individuals, all with their own interests and goals, are placed under the author's pen for incisive character dissection, and surrounding them we have the general reaction of the populace, fed inaccurate information by a headline hungry media and a publicity hungry state senator.

It is quickly obvious, and really rather disconcerting, to realize that all these people are winging it. From the small-time journalist and the bored army captain to the expert leaders of their respective fields, whether they be scientists, military or government, no one really knows what to do. This perpetual indecision and tardy reaction lends the story a fine air of credence, despite its larger plot outline; we may now have bases on our moon and Mars, but at grass roots, we are still scuttling around in circles! Although the cover blurb states "As the governments of Earth struggle toward a unified response...," apart from a passing reference to riots in Paris and London, the book is firmly biased toward the USA -- its system of government, military response and space program: perhaps in the following books, the global picture will expand.

This is an easy read, well-paced without stumbling over itself to impart the plot, with no confusing terminology or abstract scientific data. I think this helps keep the story accessible even to those not too keen on overt science fiction, and the third-person viewpoint of it all gives the impression that it is all being reported back for the reader to digest at leisure. There are no inner monologues, no deeply hidden agendas -- everyone is transparent to the reader, and for the greater part, to the individuals interacting with them. We are given a very brief physical description of the person as they are introduced into the plot, and a concise summary of their personal strong or weak points.

Randle has a firm grip on the overall structure of the story, telling an interesting tale that steers clear of trivia and has razor-sharp insight into what makes people tick at both individual and group level. I look forward to the ensuing action in further chronicles.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 12 July 2003

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