In the guise of a traditional sci-fi novel, Carter puts forth a treatise on consumerism, the environment and the future of the planet.
In 1957, Alex Gardener, a young Navy cryptologist at a top-secret Nevada military base, is assigned to decode the mysterious symbols recovered from a crashed UFO. Overseen by a power-hungry colonel, Alex quickly realizes that the symbols hold the key to humankind’s salvation, which he must not let his corrupt superiors control. Incensed by Gardener’s insubordination, the colonel forms the Black Falcons, a cadre of enforcers dedicated to preserving the secrets of extraterrestrial intelligence. The colonel’s men in black stop Gardener before he fully understands the symbols’ meaning. They then hide the symbols until their rediscovery in 2012 by Gardener’s granddaughter, Kate. Kate embarks on her own quest to understand the alien symbols while evading the men in black so she can alter the apocalyptic course for life on Earth. Carter’s imaginative take on the secrets of Area 51 is well-paced and tidy, weaving together a suspenseful plot and mythology for the aliens in a way that is believable—as far as aliens are concerned—and often entertaining. This novel’s main weakness, though, is character development; central characters duck in and out of the narrative frequently and unceremoniously, and a constantly shifting third-person perspective makes their motives and personalities even more difficult to follow. Several characters—like Kate’s stereotypically white trash mother and the absurdly nefarious colonel—are pure caricature. But while it’s hard to connect with Kate and her compatriots, the real center of Carter’s universe is Earth itself: Carter succeeds in conveying the high emotional stakes of the planet’s perilous future. His vision of Earth’s eventual decline is frighteningly plausible and his solution is genuinely moving.
Though uneven in character and plot development, the novel’s vivid look at the potential future of humankind might even change the way readers see the world.