Humanity is finally contacted by aliens—or at least one, a self-proclaimed ambassador named Ech, whose surprise landing in Orlando, Fla., ushers the planet and a local woman into a new era of incredible technology, opportunity and danger.
Coming across at times like a hybrid of Kurt Vonnegut and L. Ron Hubbard, first-time author Dugall dusts off the shopworn premise of alien contact, though there’s little of that Spielberg-ian sense of awe and wonder. In fact, the prime consideration by cynical humans—and one particularly Type A woman—seems to be how it will affect career aims and bank accounts. The theme park mecca of Orlando is the touchdown site for Ech, a member of the Ka’Hath race armed with relics of the Gardeners, a godlike, now-vanished alien civilization from galactic prehistory. Presenting himself—surgically altered to approximate a human appearance—at the airport with minimal ceremony, Ech begins negotiations with slightly put out local officials, including Sarah Thompson, a jaded-beyond-her-years consultant and troubleshooter for Orlando’s corrupt City Hall. Giving Earth a (misleadingly incomplete) picture of the galactic “Consortium” he represents, the cagey Ech only marginally reveals that our planet is in grave danger. According to alien scientific dogma, intelligent life here should not even be possible; therefore, Gardener-worshipping alien fanatics might determine to annihilate Earth. Recruiting Sarah as his primary human liaison—for her, it’s either that or go back into sales—Ech uses Gardener gadgetry to erect an awesome, automated embassy/fortress/weapons factory on an island in the Atlantic. Meanwhile, the Association, humanity’s world-dominating secret society, regards Ech and Sarah as annoyances to the status quo and conspires against them using the media, anti-alien pressure groups and considerably deadlier means. Even with a foreshadowing of dire peril and mayhem, the tone is more urbane and slightly tongue-in-cheek than gee-whiz. Prose seems to take its attitude from the heroine, who doesn’t seem overwhelmingly impressed with anything going on, least of all Ech’s inscrutably indifferent, hands-off management style. But the narrative is as witty as it is laid back, and the pages easily turn. Along with a cliffhanger ending that may be a springboard into a multivolume series, the story leaves clever clues for readers about how a transformed Earth fares down the line.
Dysfunctional mankind finally makes contact, and the results here are pleasantly entertaining, with muted satirical overtones.