One of my Goodreads friends was reading a science fiction novel called The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman. I read the description and thought it had potential. So I requested it on Net Galley and received a digital review copy for free via the publisher. I soon had a request to review it from a publicist who gave me a deadline when I agreed. That's why this Net Galley is getting such a quick turnaround.
I want to make it clear that the focus of this novel, alien abductions, is normally a theme that doesn't interest me. I don't believe they happen in the real world and I wouldn't have thought that alien abductions could make a good basis for a science fiction novel. It's a big universe out there. It's hard for me to imagine why spacefaring aliens would be interested in us. The answers that the literature on alien abduction provide seem very unpersuasive and confirm for me that people who claim to be abductees must be very desperate for attention. Yet I wondered if Campbell Award winner Eleanor Lerman had done some fresh thinking on this topic.
Most science fiction writers start by developing their concept. Lerman starts by developing her characters. I have to admit that I initially found protagonist Julia Glazer tiresome and unengaging. I might well have abandoned the book fairly early if I hadn't agreed to review it. Yet over the course of the narrative Julia became more interesting and the decision she made at the end of the book was totally unexpected.
There were also some wonderful characters who we get to meet along the way. There's a compassionate psychiatrist who is studying those who claim to be abductees even though he's been professionally ostracized for trying to help them. There's the tatoo artist who has nothing but scorn for the aliens' tattoos. Then there's also a paranormal photographer who produces images from people's minds. It seemed to me that Julia grew as a character as a result of her relationships with these people.
I read a review of this book on Goodreads that complained about the originality of the aliens. While it's true that there have been aliens who have wanted the same as these aliens, I believe that the nature of this book's aliens is original. Toward the end of this book, I considered Lerman's concept flawed. Yet it eventually occurred to me that she was portraying the aliens as being mistaken. Readers who research the star pattern that they were using to guide them will realize why they weren't finding what they wanted. A species can be very advanced and still be in error about how to attain their goals.
These aliens thought of humans as not having enough common ground with them, but there was a commonality of aspiration. The aliens were looking for something that many human religions are based on. I think it was that shared hunger that caused Julia to make her impulsive decision at the end of this novel.
I confess that I thought Julia was as mistaken as the aliens had been. My reaction when I finished the book was a sarcastic "Good luck with that." Other readers may feel more connected to Julia than I did, and have a totally different perception of this book.