Alien Theology

Illegal Alien
Robert J. Sawyer
Ace, 1998

Sometimes I come across a book that manages to break all the rules, and leaves me almost breathless. Sawyer's Illegal Alien turned out to be such a book. It is not a conventional science fiction story, by any means. Most of the action takes place in the court room, in a very present day setting. If it weren't for the outlandish description of some of the characters, the book could be any conventional court room drama. But instead of boring me, this story had me turning the pages as quickly as I could read them.

Sawyer presents some of the best aliens I've ever come across. These creatures aren't Star Trek people with funny heads, nor are they talking Star Wars animals. Sawyer's aliens are creatures that evolved on another world. They have a different concept of the universe, and their conception of ethics is truly nonhuman. Sawyer even shows us how these beings are put together, to great effect.

The story's main plot is a mystery reminiscent of the best Perry Mason plots. Sawyer presents the relevant evidence in a fair manner, but gives nothing away until the very end. I don't know how well other readers might do, but I was able to puzzle out some hints about the mystery, without getting the feeling that the story was lame or predictable.

At the same time Sawyer presents the USAn system of justice fairly and accurately. There are many references to OJ Simpson in the story, which is no accident since many people the world over are horribly without the least clue about what the first trial of OJ Simpson really meant. Sawyer manages to make several important points in that regard, without becoming preachy. This alone makes the book an excellent reading assignment for any USAn high school student.

In the last few pages, Sawyer springs one final surprise: the real reason for the mystery. Again, he does it skillfully, and avoids any appearance of trying for melodrama or surprise endings. This finish fits with the beginning, and is integral to the story. Like a well planned campaign, this ending makes everything come together.

This extraordinarily satisfying story includes something for everyone: science fiction for the fans, a nail biting thriller at the end, a challenging mystery, good science, and a competent treatment of courtroom drama.

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