Review: “Arrival,” Ryk Brown

Pros: Nice variation on the survival genre
Cons: Childish adults (especially women)
Rating: 2 out of 5

Ryk Brown’s Arrival involves a small spaceship, the Icarus, scouting out three possible human-habitable planets. Their mother ship, the Daedalus (a colony ship), will use the information the Icarus obtains to decide which planet to go to–there isn’t enough fuel to change their minds past a certain point. Of course, the Icarus runs into all sorts of trouble–crash landings, crew spread into two groups, mysterious infection, bizarre blue-furred natives… They have all the problems! Unfortunately if they can’t figure them out in time, then the Daedalus will have to go to one of the other planets and our crew will never be rescued.

 

The first part of the story does not mesh with the rest. It seems to be someone spying on a woman who’s just found out something that has devastated her. By the very end of the book this will make sense, but frankly it’s so far apart that I found the piece openly annoying at first because it was so coy with details. By the end it was shrug-worthy because that first piece didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t learn later. It adds little and increases initial confusion. At least if it had come last then it would have made immediate sense.

Particularly toward the beginning of the book, many of the characters (especially all of the women excluding the doctor) act like children. It’s hard to imagine how someone could have thought that these characters could possibly accomplish this mission. All the women whine and complain. Some of the men are assholes. There’s a situation where a woman may well have a broken rib, but the man she’s stranded with makes her do a lot of crap work because she was rude to him. And she seems to take this as her due (although with some grumbles), as though being mean to him was something that should be punished with pain and possible further injury. This section in particular really grated on me. Most of the characters are pretty shallow, and some of them are oddly unobservant (a character notices that his hair is turning blue and doesn’t seem to think anything is weird with that). When one woman manages to become drunk on virtually no alcohol, she acts and talks like a three-year-old (“Are you takin’ a wee-wee?”). We do eventually get a glimpse of the Daedalus, and every person who speaks up seems completely stereotypical and shallow.

It seems like the landing ship these guys used was practically designed to fail catastrophically. However, the inevitable landing calamities are handled well as tension-builders. Once everyone sets up a perimeter alarm, there’s no explanation for how a local creature gets past it without setting off the alarms.

The survivalist plot core is interesting and captivating. (I admit to a fondness for survival plots.) I just wish the characters measured up to that. When dealing with Sara and Mac being stranded by a sudden flood, I actually so disliked the stranded characters and how they handled this plot twist that I wrote “I hate these characters” in my notes.

SPOILER WARNING–the rest of this paragraph talks about some ending spoilers because I really want to address them. At the end, Jack (the captain of their group, who was split from the main group during landing) has transformed into one of the weird blue-furred native bipeds. At roughly the same time, the last of the crew is dealing with a horrible illness. Jack is able to save them, but gradually he loses more and more of his humanity. Before he bolts, he tells his remaining crew not to tell anyone about his transformation. So… they have absolutely no idea what caused his transformation and whether everyone else will eventually follow suit, but they obey his wishes and tell the Daedalus it’s safe to come down. So they’re risking the health of every single person on their colony ship just to save one guy’s… uh, reputation or something? And given that they had already noticed the blue bipeds, what are they going to tell the colonists when they inevitably notice them too–just tell them ignore it and it’ll go away? This whole part makes no sense. Someone’s just going to end up shooting him thinking he’s a dangerous animal. END SPOILERS

The survivalism was handled well and was fun to read, but the character issues were so terrible that I couldn’t justify a rating higher than two.

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