Robert J. Sawyer
Illegal Alien (1998)
Reviewed: 1999-05-12

Switch on the TV, the alien lander just made its splashdown in the middle of the Atlantic. Illegal Alien is set now. References to contemporary American culture and public figures abound. This is a double-edged sword: It avoids the conventional, but strikingly artificial anonymity that is customarily associated with novels, but on the other hand the book will also be obviously aged just a few years down the road.

First contact is quickly established. The aliens, who call themselves Tosoks, are from the Alpha Centauri triple star system. They have apparently come as explorers and were so unfortunate to hit a piece of interplanetary junk on their way into our solar system. Now their mothership is in an orbit around Earth. The Tosoks require our help to effect the necessary repairs to their vessel. As repayment, humanity may keep the technological know-how gained from making the spare parts. Work proceeds, and meanwhile the Tosoks enjoy a thorough tour of the planet. Things are going exceedingly well.

Until America's most famous TV science popularizer is gruesomely murdered, and the evidence points to a particular Tosok as the killer. The country's leading civil rights lawyer is hired to defend the alien in what will certainly be the world's most spectacular trial. The possible repercussions of a conviction are, well, interstellar.

This book is certainly a page-turner. There are several plaintext references to the O.J. Simpson trial, leaving no doubt just what inspired the author to write this novel. I can only assume that Sawyer, who is Canadian, has portrayed the American (and Californian) legal system correctly. At least the acknowledgements indicate that he gathered expert advice from legal firms. First contact stories are exciting, and the subsequent courtroom drama is engagingly written, although I wish the author would make information available to the reader at the same time as to the viewpoint personae.

Alas, there are many small problems that mar the overall impression. For example:

Although the topics are justifiable in the context of the novel, Sawyer transparently grinds some personal axes of his, to wit, the statistics of the US legal system's treatment of the accused according to their race, and creationism.

Unfortunately I can't say much about the end of the book without spoiling it. This is something of a pity, because before its conclusion the story takes an unexpected turn, and there the implausibilities really start heaping up, greatly diminishing the overall impact of the book. Riveting, but flawed.

Home Page | Review Index | Latest Reviews

Generated: 2006-04-26

Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>