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Through Alien Eyes
Amy Thomson
Ace Books, 336 pages

Through Alien Eyes
Amy Thomson
Amy Thomson was born in 1958 in Miami, Florida. Her first book was Virtual Girl from Ace in 1993. She won the John W. Campbell Award in 1994 and was a finalist for the Phillip K. Dick Award for The Colour of Distance in 1996. Amy Thomson lives in Seattle with her husband, Edd Vick.

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A review by James Seidman

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The subject of first contact with an alien race has long been a favourite of science fiction authors. With Through Alien Eyes, Amy Thomson reaches a level of depth and complexity rarely achieved in first contact stories.

The story focuses on two aliens of the Tendu race, Ukatonen and Moki, the first sentient aliens to visit Earth. Accompanying them is Dr Juna Saari, who was stranded on the aliens' planet during a survey mission. Only through Ukatonen's intervention did Dr Saari survive the experience. When it comes time for her to return to Earth, the two Tendu decide to become ambassadors for their species.

The Tendu are not a technologically advanced species, let alone a space-faring race. They have advanced skills in biology, medicine, and ecology, but these derive largely from innate physiological capabilities. As such, they find the environments of spaceships and orbital stations to be stunningly strange. Thomson does a great job of describing how these human environments affect the aliens.

Much of the plot revolves around the issues of how human society reacts to the aliens. While Ukatonen and Moki have only the best of intentions, they repeatedly run up against human fear, greed, prejudice, and even power-mongering. As the title of the book implies, there is a focus on how our flawed society would appear to aliens. These particular aliens are so good and free of malice, almost implausibly so, that human deficiencies stand out in sharp relief.

The book's biggest problem is the uneven pace. The first chapter is quite tedious, as Thomson attempts to establish the alien character of the Tendu by using many alien words. After this, the pace picks up for the most part, but still drags periodically. The last couple of chapters then seem rushed, as if Thomson were running out of time to make a deadline.

Despite this, Through Alien Eyes is a wonderfully engaging story. Its very refreshing variation on the first contact genre easily overcomes its minor shortcomings.

Copyright © 1999 James Seidman

James Seidman is the director of software development at a hot Internet startup company. Consequently, he needs the excuse of doing book reviews to give himself time to read. He lives with his wife, daughter, two dogs, and twenty-seven fish in Naperville, Illinois.


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