by Joe Haldeman
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Coming is a strange sort of first contact novel because the novel does not focus on the impending arrival of the aliens, but rather on the lives of the human principles and their associates. The novel opens with the discovery of a strange signal in early October indicating that something alien will be arriving on Earth on January 1. The discovery is made by Professor Aurora Bell at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Each of the short chapters is from the viewpoint of a different on of his multitude of characters, although the novel is a single continuous story. Each chapter ends with some sort of encounter between the viewpoint character of the earlier chapter and the new viewpoint character. These encounters can range from an in depth conversation between a husband and wife to two ships passing through the night who happen to notice each other, but know nothing else about each other. It is a credit to Haldeman's abilities that The Coming works as well as it does.
Not all of the characters work. Gabrielle, a student who moonlights making porn, seems to be included only for the titillation factor. Although her activities do add to the background understanding of the world Haldeman postulates in the future, however, many of the things the reader learns from Gabrielle could have been learned from other characters.
Background is as important to The Coming as the various characters. Haldeman rarely explains how his society developed, but he offers a wide variety of clues about how the world runs. Spanish words and phrases pepper the characters' speech. The technology in use is clearly derived from today's standards and the political environment is an outgrowth of todays with a distinctly conservative angle.
Haldeman packs a lot of information into a relatively short and highly entertaining novel. The Coming is, in many ways, a low-key thriller which could have been set in the modern day without losing anything in the way of plot. However, the plot, characters and setting mesh so well it could not have been the same book had Haldeman decided to set it in the present. The Coming ranks with previous Haldeman novels Forever Free, The Hemingway Hoax or None So Blind.
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