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Cavalcade
Alison Sinclair
Orion Millennium, 300 pages

Cavalcade
Alison Sinclair
Alison Sinclair was born in Colchester, England, raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Victoria, British Columbia. She graduated from the University of Victoria with a B.Sc. Honours Chemistry, Major Physics, and from McMaster University with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. She has worked as a post-doctoral scientist in Boston, USA, and Leeds, England, before entering the University of Calgary in 1995 to study Medicine. Graduating in May 1999, she is now a resident in Anatomic Pathology in Calgary.

Alison Sinclair Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

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This interesting novel is set entirely on an alien spaceship. The book opens just as hundreds of thousands of humans have awakened from being transported from Earth to the ship. This was entirely voluntary: the aliens came and announced that they'd take anyone who wanted to go. People are segregated by language, it seems, and we follow the viewpoints of a few people in the English language area: Stan Morgan, a NASA scientist attached to a US Army squad which hopes to learn enough about the spaceship to be able to return to Earth with the data; his niece Hathaway, a pregnant teen who just wants a new life away from her stressful home; Stephen Cooper, a disaffected young man who was afraid he would be wanted for murder and who found the ship a convenient way to run really far away; and Sophie Hemmingway, an upper class American research M.D. who fears a genetic disease will give her Alzheimer's by the time she's 50, and who hopes to learn from the aliens how to cure her disease.

The story starts somewhat slowly, but the characters are interesting enough to hold our attention. Almost everyone is surprised by the way the ship works. No electrical device will function, shattering Sophie's hopes of research, and frustrating many people's belief that they will be able to communicate with Earth. Food supplies seem to be a problem, but in time the ship itself starts to make food. Shelter is a problem, but the ship can be altered to provide this as well. A variety of societies quickly form: an all-women society (complete with explicit allusions to Tiptree's "The Women Men Don't See"); an anarchic group; and the main group, an attempt at a co-operative society run by an expert in refugee camps.

The novel follows to some extent the stresses involved in setting up these groups, and in their interaction, but the more important problem is understanding the ship and the aliens, who don't seem to want to communicate. Morgan and his army squad attack the problem somewhat analytically, including a dangerous expedition into a dark core area which might be the control room. Stephen Cooper, always a loner, explores the ship on his own and also finds the supposed control room. Hathaway is an artist, and she finds that her attempts at painting on the ship's walls provoke a response that may be communication.

Then a series of crises bring things to a head: first a plague which kills many of the humans, followed by Stephen's past catching up with him, then conflict between the different societies, and finally an emergency as the ship seems to begin to break down. The final parts of the book are very exciting, and the resolution is quite original, and also very moving. The central mysteries are resolved fairly and in an interesting manner, the plot is resolved excitingly and without cheating, and the book's theme is strong and satisfying, and deeply science-fictional. In some ways it is reminiscent of Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy, or perhaps one might say it is almost a response to that work.

All in all, this is a very satisfying novel, highly recommended. It is well-deserving of its position on the Arthur C. Clarke Award shortlist for its year of publication. One might quibble over a few details. Some of the plot is set into motion by odd coincidences. One gets very little sense that the ship is populated by any humans but the English-speaking ones, though Sinclair is careful to mention that there are enclaves for every culture and (major) language. And as I said, the opening is a bit slow. But these are minor points, and on balance I was very pleased. (Also, while I admit to being predisposed to this statement by knowing that Sinclair is Canadian, this seemed a very Canadian book, even though none of the major characters are Canadian.)

Copyright © 2000 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at http://www.sff.net/people/richard.horton.


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