An expedition to one of Jupiter’s moons leads to contact with an alien species that may be plotting a takeover of Earth in Erlick’s (Regina Shen: Endurance, 2016, etc.) sci-fi novel.
Dr. Elena Sweetwater Pyetrov is excited to continue her father Alexander’s work on Europa, where his ship disappeared nearly two decades earlier. But when her shuttle inexplicably passes by a necessary pit stop on Earth’s moon, her on-again, off-again fiance, Capt. Marc Carlisle, tells her that something’s pulling them toward Jupiter. After they survive a crash landing on what appears to be Europa, Elena encounters an older man: her father, accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter, Thelma. He tells Elena of an alien race, the Knoonk, that provided him with food and a communications link to Earth—but as he talks to her, his finger taps out a secret Morse code message: “e-v-i-l.” Soon Elena and Marc find others from their ship and realize that the Knoonk are pushing humans to mate with the promise of sustenance and shelter. It turns out that there are many other captive earthlings who eventually wage war against one another, while pregnant women and children mysteriously vanish. All the while, the Knoonk are scouring Earth for their Royal Couple, who are hiding there in human form. Erlick quickly drops readers into the story, getting the characters to Jupiter by the second chapter. Much of the rest of the novel adopts a more leisurely pace as it tells a tale of captive humans resisting oppressive aliens. It’s a potent concept, although it’s occasionally undersold: the frightening notion of some humans worshiping the Knoonk, for example, doesn’t quite offset descriptions that comically downplay the aliens, such as, “The Knoonk had destroyed their food to get them to hook up.” The dynamic between the sisters, however, is quite engaging; Elena overcomes Thelma’s indecipherable speech—which consists of seemingly random rhymes—with Morse code, bonding by using their father’s method of communication. There are quite a few twists as well, including revelations of the Knoonk’s origins and some of the things they’ve done to the humans as well as a few intriguing developments back on Earth. Overall, it’s a fine launch for a potential series.
An interplanetary tale with an effectively slow build that leads to a solid climax.