ARGONAUT by Stanley Schmidt


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An awkwardly told first-contact story, also the first novel in 16 years from the Schmidt, longtime editor of Analog Science Fiction magazine. A strange bug in the near-future stings Lester Ordway, a retired electrical engineer living in upstate New York, right between the eyes. He becomes woozy, and, as his life's memories to pass before him, he manages to grab the critter in his hand before passing out. Awakening in a busy hospital emergency room, he lets the bug, or bugs (it seems to have replicated itself), go—and who should get stung but medical lab technician Pilar Ramirez, who doesn't know much about bugs but knows that this is no ordinary bug. Pilar and Lester grab another bug, bring it to the lively entomologist Maybelle Terwilliger, who identifies the bug as a mechanical device, possibly an otherworldly information-gathering device. What starts as an unusual take on the standard alien-invasion story becomes downright silly when Pilar is met at her apartment by a handsome male stranger who effortlessly disables her computer and warns her not to probe too deeply. When Pilar asks, “Are you human? Are you from this planet?” he responds, “I will not dignify that with an answer.” He resists her attempt to MACE him, tries to stab her with a knife, and then jumps out of her apartment window. No, this isn't one of Philip K. Dick's paranoid farces, and Schmidt’s characters don't have the salt-of-the-earth sensibility that Stephen King uses to prop up his alien-invasion stories. The final confrontation, in which the alien scientist Xiphar calls Pilar on her telephone to reveal that it was all a simple misunderstanding, just as the Earth launches a swarm of missiles to blow him to pieces, is an unintentional hoot.

Plausible science, trite dialogue, implausible plotting: a disappointment from such an esteemed editor and writer.

Pub Date: July 1st, 2002
ISBN: 0-312-87726-9
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Tor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2002