Humanity makes first contact with aliens—but humanity being what is, it doesn't go smoothly.
The research vessel Magellan discovers a reason to wake her cryogenically sleeping crew: an object at an impossible dead rest in deep space. Capt. Allison Ridgeway orders the strange, hourglass-shaped object brought aboard and the discovery reported to Earth. The resulting frenzy of activity on Earth matches that on Magellan, except on Earth, the researchers must contend not only with the artifact's high-tech mysteries, but also with budgets, political machismo, tabloid reporters, conspiracy theorists, and the odd cultist or three. Tomlinson (Children of the Divide, 2017, etc.) takes a tongue-in-cheek view of the spectrum of human responses as our species discovers that we're not only not alone, but regarded as little better than clever—and dangerous—apes. But warmongering isn't confined to Earth alone: One alien race, the Turemok, see humanity's debut onto the cosmic stage as the chance to regain lost glory...if they can just frame humans as planetary mass murderers. Magellan's crew will need to navigate aggressive orders from back home—personified in the dispatch of hot-dogging space captain Maximus Tiberius and his shiny new warship—as well as interstellar intrigue. Human ingenuity, grit, and sheer dumb luck are pitted against the technological might of a galactic empire that's had a lot more time to learn about us than we have about them. The high stakes are defused with a humor that's often hit-and-miss: At its best, it reminds us of humanity's foibles, but at its worst it shifts the tone from a tense tale of discovery to a slapstick romp.
A well-drawn ensemble cast of scientists, soldiers, and aliens enriches this quirky first-contact tale, but that same quirkiness steals some of its impact.