Pros: The ending is fascinating
Cons: Just about everything else
Rating: 2 out of 5
David Kazzie’s Anomaly centers on Claire Hamilton, a 45-year-old astrobiology professor with a husband, Jack, and two 6-year-old kids, Hugo and Miranda. Twelve years earlier she was married to Peter, but he vanished while on a NASA-sponsored expedition to check out a massive meteor that had landed, and he was declared dead. Now Claire’s been told that Peter is still alive, and the “meteor” isn’t a meteor at all–it slowed down before landing, meaning it’s some sort of alien spacecraft or artifact. NASA manages to convince Claire to go on an expedition to check it out, and she leaves her family behind to find out whether her previous husband is still alive, and what the artifact means to humanity.
First, let’s talk about the issue of why Claire didn’t go on the first expedition but gets invited on this one. She’s an astrobiologist, so the issue of alien contact is within her wheelhouse. There are two separate excuses given for why she gets invited now but didn’t before. One, the sciences are a good old boys’ club and the previous expedition was set up in a sexist manner. Hard to argue for this when we’re told in passing that the original expedition had four women on it. Sure, that was less than half of the expedition, but not nearly as anti-female as the narrative insists it is. Two, the folks running this expedition think she deserves to go since she’s suddenly finding out her husband is alive after twelve years. Uh, sure, but we’re talking about a thing that’s so secretive that, including Claire, only 96 people in the world supposedly know about it. The idea that someone would let her on the expedition out of pity is a little hard to swallow. Ultimately, the whole thing feels artificial and convenient–just a little sleight-of-hand to arrange the setup the author wanted.
I don’t like the characters very much. Jack’s reaction to everything seems to be to get drunk. Claire is kind of narcissistic, and Peter… well, I should avoid going into that to avoid spoilers, but it suffices to say that Claire’s memories of him seem to be tinted by rose-colored glasses. One of the few good parts to this book is the depiction of Claire trying to reconcile herself to the fact that Peter is still alive while she now has a husband and children, but it goes on forever. Most of the narrative is given over to this, and it gets to be a bit much. The anomaly itself ends up relegated to the very end of the book. While advertising copy concentrates on the exciting stuff, the actual meat of the story is almost entirely about Claire and her struggle to make sense of what’s going on. Thus I thought I was getting one kind of book, when in reality it turned out to be another.
I do rather like some of Claire’s occasional crass moments, such as this:
…[A]nd oh, sister, a child who happily went to bed was like finding a unicorn that pooped dark chocolate and pissed wine at the end of the rainbow.
There are some bits and pieces that don’t really add up. Peter and the rest of his team had implants transmitting their vital signs back to the project; that’s how they believe he’s still alive. His vital signs suddenly got picked up again after having gone silent for twelve years. So… why aren’t they asking how come the implant is still working after all these years? Why did the signal suddenly start up again (no, that’s never addressed)? If they had this technology twelve years ago, how come they don’t use it on Claire and her team? (Yes, it’s true that they now believe no electronics will work on the island, but they did just receive Peter’s signal again after all these years, so that clearly isn’t entirely true. It would have been better than nothing, at least.)
There’s also a weird sequence in which Claire gets caught in a traffic jam and ends up getting arrested for assault and battery, only to get bailed out by a DIA agent who was one of the people who told her about Peter still being alive. This whole sequence felt very random, and regarding the agent in question just left me with more questions than answers. Speaking of questions without answers, there are a couple of characters that never get explored or explained well enough for my taste. There’s also a completely random memory of Claire being scared of a clown when she was a kid. Huh?? Also, her men-vs-women thoughts get really tedious, particularly since they get echoed by everyone around her. She seems to believe men and women can’t be friends without there being more to it; Peter seems to think women are inherently unreasonable… I mean, am I actually supposed to like any of these people? Claire is so out-of-step and in conflict with both of the men in her life that it’s hard to believe she has had happy marriages.
The details surrounding the alien artifact get confusing. Peter’s seen it, but he hasn’t seen it, but there’s some other weird orb thing, which first I thought was the anomaly, but apparently it wasn’t? Only they just left it there and moved on? And… oh never mind. There are also a lot of lectures about how this alien artifact must necessarily lead to war. We don’t need to be told at that much length.
The ending is far better than this book deserves, even if it is still a little confusing and odd. I won’t go into more detail that that, because it would be rude to spoil it. Ultimately though, I can’t really recommend this book.