Something Coming Through
Author: Paul McAuley
Page count: 383pp (paperback)
Release date: 14th Jan 2016
reviewed by Chris Amies
Paul McAuley’s latest novel tells of an Earth that has been contacted by aliens called the Jackaroo. Chloe, working for an organisation called Disruption Theory in London, is tracking weird phenomena relating to the aliens and happens upon a young boy who is drawing strangely hypnotic structures. Meanwhile on the planet Mangala, detective Vic Gayle is investigating a murder.
Although the two converging strands of this novel involve murder on a distant world, gangsters and dangerous robotic lifeforms, there is a slowness to this narrative that allows us to admire the scenery. The story starts in a London that feels like the present day only a present day with alien coral reefs and avatars. Change has come in the wake of a briefcase nuke detonated in Trafalgar Square. Now there are people who appear to be conduits for the aliens, but what the aliens want is another matter. As McAuley says, “… the way that technology has become a cargo cult that is changing us in ways we can neither predict nor, as yet, fully understand.” Not everyone is happy with the new order: an organisation called the Human Decency League – something like UKIP – is ranged against the Jackaroo and has Disruption Theory in their sights.
Chloe is an intriguing character – streetwise and almost too cynical for her young age but no cliche. The second story set on Mangala infuriated me by its setting – I made a note ‘How redshifted was my valley’ and this stuck with me: McAuley describes the planet as like ‘an alternate Earth or the kind of fictional country where action films … were staged’, with alien avatars and biochines (biological+machines). Investigator Gayle comes across as something like Jack Regan from ‘The Sweeney’ and the whole is reminiscent of a Western both set and made in the 1970s and with gangsters, bent cops, poverty and drugs – because they can just pile through a wormhole along with the builders of fast food restaurants and supermarkets. There are alien drugs and dealing with their effects is a full-time job for the cops on Mangala. If Cormac McCarthy were to set a novel in space it could resemble this. The alien entity that seems to be influencing young Farhad and his sister Rana is called Ugly Chicken – a reference to Howard Waldrop’s story? The phrase “Easy Travel to Other Planets” also gets used a few times and is the title of a novel by American novelist Ted Mooney and which isn’t really about space travel. The Jackaroo themselves are enigmatic and their gifts to humankind ambivalent.
There is a sequel named “Into Everywhere.” It will be interesting to see how the mystery of the Jackaroo and what they want – and what happened to the races they contacted before they got to Earth – develops.