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Alpha Transit
Edward McSweegan
1stBooks, 1169 Kbytes

Alpha Transit
Edward McSweegan
Edward McSweegan is an infectious disease expert in the Washington, D.C. area. His writing credits include numerous non-fiction articles and book reviews. A fictional essay appeared in Science as part of the magazine's millennial series, "Visions of the Future." A short medical mystery won First Place in Writer's Digest genre fiction contest and was published in The Year's Best Writing 2001. Other writing awards include two first place prizes and the grand prize in the 2002 Maryland Writers Association-1stBooks.Com Book Contest.

Edward McSweegan Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Peter D. Tillman

In the mid-22nd century, humankind is taking its first steps into interstellar space. Two living worlds have been discovered in the Alpha Centauri system -- one even has sentients, the Bronze-age Troodons. A small human colony has been established on the other, dubbed Norumbega. The third starship to Centauri is damaged by a meteorite as it is decelerating towards Norumbega...

OK, this is a pretty standard setup. Why would you want to read another first-colony, first-contact, first novel, by a guy you've never heard of, and from an off-brand publisher?

Because this guy, Edward McSweegan, is a riveting storyteller. Despite a bunch of flaws (which I'll spell out later), I read it in one sitting. This isn't the tenth or even the hundredth story I've read with this basic plot, and the pages still just flew by. I liked Alpha Transit -- now let's see if I can lay out the book so you can see if it's right for you.

The author, who first came to mind as a comparable, is the late Robert Forward. McSweegan's done his technical homework. The starship technology is believable, and spelled out in sufficient detail to satisfy the starry-eyed gearheads among us (me, me!). I didn't notice any serious scientific gaffes. There's nothing startlingly original here -- McSweegan's basically taken a good 50s or 60s SF story and brought it up to date. Which is a substantial achievement. The price paid is that the characters and plot are, well, adequate. The utter lack of literary pretense is refreshing, and his characters are, uh..., somewhat more lifelike than Forward's.

McSweegan did a nice job with his aliens, too, who are genuinely alien, not just actors in Klingon suits. The alien biochemistry is interesting and plausible (McSweegan is a microbiologist). He sets things up for a sequel, but the novel comes to a satisfying resolution. He writes with the bedrock optimism that's always drawn me to the genre. He's clearly a new hard-SF writer to watch, and I'm surprised one of the 'name' SF publishers didn't pick the book up.

Which is probably the reason for most of the caveats I'm about to deliver. Copy-editing is about on the level of an old Ace paperback on a bad day, and no real editor was involved. The book, though nicely printed and bound, is printed double-spaced with large type. This might actually be a desirable feature for aging eyes, but is distracting and looks amateurish. Too many characters talk about 20th-century culture. There are too many characters, period. The tone of the book can be almost painfully earnest...

But, you know what? None of this stuff really matters, 'cause the story grabs you by the neck and won't let go.

And I have to admire McSweegan's grit in getting his book into print however he could. Technically-literate SF that tells a socko story is never in oversupply, so let's welcome a promising new supplier!

Copyright © 2003 Peter D. Tillman

Pete Tillman has been reading SF for better than 40 years now. He reviews SF -- and other books -- for Usenet, "Under the Covers", Infinity-Plus, Dark Planet, and SF Site. He's a mineral exploration geologist based in Arizona. More of his reviews are posted at .

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