ENCOUNTER WITH TIBER
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
In relatively recent years, celebrities from all fields have been turning to writing as an outlet for their creativity. In some few cases, such as former-jockey Dick Francis, their writing careers overshadow that original claim to fame. In most cases, such as William Shatner or Richard Dreyfuss, there is probably little chance that their novels will supplant their previous careers. Add now to the list of celebrity authors former astronaut Buzz Aldrin. In fact, Aldrin isn't even the first astronaut to turn novelist. Scott Carpenter, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, has written several thrillers, although his tend to deal more with oceanography than space.
Aldrin's book is highly derivative of other first contact science fiction novels, not least of which is Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: a space odyssey and Carl Sagen's Contact. However, derivitive should not be taken to mean the book is not worthwhile. Aldrin does manage to do some important things in this novel.
The strongest portions of the book are the first and fourth sections, both of which deal with terrestrial space programs in the near future. Aldrin uses these sections to outline some of his opinions concerning where the US and other space programs should aim to go in the future. Although interesting, at times these sections tend to read less like a novel and more like a manifesto. Despite this, these parts of the book are strong and make you want to continue turning pages.
The book slows down a little in the second and third section. These portions of the book deal with the Tiberians, the races of aliens who visited Earth in the distant past. Despite being alien, the Tiberian races (Palathians and Shulathians) seem to be driven by the same desires, ethics, and needs as humans. Even their names tend to resemble those of the ancient Egyptians.
Throughout the book, Aldrin pauses to give short lectures on physics and astronomy. At these times, the book slows down, occasionally grinding to a complete halt when Aldrin includes a parenthetical explanation which only serves to drive home a scientific point. If the two main audiences for this book are science fiction fans and people who read it because of who Aldrin is, most of the scientific interpolation will cover basic knowledge which the reader already has.
The other point where the book's action comes to a complete standstill does so for completely different reasons. Aldrin will make an off-hand comment about the moon or zero gravity and suddenly the full weight of his experience causes the reader to put down the book and think "He has been there."
Looking back over what I have written, I'm afraid my review of this book doesn't paint it in an exceptionally good light. Although I did feel it was slow moving at times and that Aldrin's aliens would have been perfect for Star Trek (Hubert Humphrey in a costume), I would recommend this book as one to read, not necessarily of award caliber, but very few books are.
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