An astrophysicist discovers an artifact from outer space containing a cryptic message that may be a precursor to an alien attack in this debut novel.
Lukas Linsky is a genius who dreams of becoming an astrophysicist. He was born to accomplished parents Flo, a doctor of genetics, and Marcus, who in 2017 founded the CIA-backed Android AI. The CIA wants to use the company to create combat robots, but advancement in artificial intelligence leads to a line of superior androids called Andi Mk2s. Their purpose is to help humans reverse the increasing devastation caused by global warming. At the same time, Lukas starts building the Linsky Observatory in New Zealand, completed by 2032. It’s in New Zealand where Lukas spots a “bolt of bright orange plasma light” moving with purpose and obviously not a natural occurrence. He and his pal Angus “Gus” Macleod later see and chase another plasma ball, which lands on Earth. It’s a sphere that Marcus determines is of an element or alloy not of this world. It also contains a binary-coded message, the initially translated synopsis providing a future date and coordinates to the sun. The sphere seems to have originated from an Earth-like exoplanet, Kepler-452b. Noting that Kepler-452b is lacking in a particular resource that’s more abundant on Earth, Lukas surmises an alien species may be intent on taking the treasure in a likely unfriendly manner. Further decryption of the sphere’s code reveals that the aliens may be wary of the Mk2s and have a plan involving the androids.
Lilly’s engaging tale, despite Lukas’ first-person voice, reads like a history book. There’s very little dialogue, and the narrative’s occasionally interrupted by separated text defining terminology or clarifying historical references. These notes reinforce a smart story rife with information, even when they explain something relatively simple like TV—after all, it may be obsolete for distant-future readers. There is, however, some redundancy: expounding on wormholes more than once or discussing the Richter scale and electromagnetic pulses well after they’ve already appeared in the story. The protagonist generally relays events as they unfold, which is fitting for a scientist. But he’s not merely a cold observer; the author skillfully provides insights into his character. It’s clear that Lukas loves his parents, and he quickly falls for Vicki, a former professional football (aka soccer) player in England. He also believes calling Marcus “Dad” is a “childish slip,” a sign that he fears emotional attachments, even to loved ones. Still, his relationships to friends and family are sturdy enough that, when death ultimately rears its ugly head, there’s an unmistakable impact. Lilly deftly retains suspense by way of the aliens’ anticipated actions; there’s a countdown to the 2035 date cited in the message (down to the final seconds), while an invasion at that point is still speculation. Tech is both familiar and new (for example, a top-secret submarine) and sometimes creatively named: a ship's operations room for flying pilotless aircraft is called "The Kids Room" for its resemblance to handheld gaming consoles.
An entertaining yarn that delivers a curious mix of science and sci-fi.