In Weatherford’s lengthy debut sci-fi novel, a jaded academic must conceal a beautiful alien in the most perilous place possible: a second-rate university.
In an introduction, the author begs pardon from anyone offended by his arch portrayal of American campus values. The real joke is that real-life political correctness, academic dogma and anti-intellectualism have surpassed this fiction’s satire. Its plot is a critical retort to Carl Sagan’s 1985 novel Contact, with a lagniappe of the sexy–space-monster movie Species (1995) thrown in. In 2069, America is even more jaded and cynical than it is now. Long Island astronomer John Watters holds a desultory job at a perpetually downsizing New York state university, manning the last vestige of the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence project and scanning the cosmos for signals from alien life. Stunningly, he receives a mammoth download of information from 2,000 light years away, including instructions on how to build a device to synthesize an alien visitor from encoded data. Members of the mean, shortsighted, Christian-dominated U.S. government (under glad-handing President John Kennedy Cuomo) try to cover up the signal, but a mysterious billionaire with his own selfish agenda makes humanity’s first contact with aliens possible. By chance, only Watters is present when the alien arrives, in the form of a beautiful, 19-year-old blonde woman. The astronomer attempts to shield the Candide-like innocent from all but a few close confidants, passing her off as “Denise Singleton from Arkansas,” his distant cousin, whom he enrolls at his school. The guileless, enigmatic Denise soon faces the campus’s minefield of power plays and manipulations. As Weatherford highlights the pathologies of academia, he also shows Denise skewering sacred cows with lengthy dialogues about human science, history, race, religion, and culture from an innocent, and alien, point of view. In them, she says that the Big Bang is bunk and that quantum physics is more akin to religious faith than reason; she also naïvely compares the Holocaust to the pitiless wars of extermination that Jews waged against one another in the Old Testament. Such dialogues tend to digress from the narrative as a whole. However, Weatherford’s notions are often frighteningly smart; he even veers sideways for a delicious takedown of the 1946 Frank Capra film It’s a Wonderful Life.
A brainy, tragicomic subversion of university life, the universe, and everything.