Author: Michael R. Hicks
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Imperial Guard Publishing – Kindle
Publication Date: August 2009
Stand alone or series: Prequel to the In Her Name trilogy
Led by Commander Owen McClaren, the TNS Aurora is embarked on an extended survey mission, searching for new worlds that could support human life. Drawn to an uncharted star system by the discovery of potentially habitable planets, the crew of the Aurora discovers something entirely unexpected: the planets are already inhabited, but not by humans. Approached by gigantic alien starships, Aurora’s crew makes ready for humanity-s very first contact with another sentient race.
But nothing could prepare them for what fate has in store. For they have entered the domain of the Kreelan Empire, which has waited thousands of years to find another spacefaring race against which to wage war to honor their Empress. With all but one of the crew killed in bloody close combat, the aliens send Aurora home bearing the sole survivor: the Messenger, a young crewman who carries with him an alien artifact that is humanity’s only sign of how much time remains until they are plunged into an interstellar war
How did we get this book: Review Copies from the author
Why did we read this book: We read, and loved, the first trilogy, In Her Name
Ana:We read the In Her Name trilogy last year and I loved it for its great blend of Sci-fi, Space Opera and Romance. I was very impressed with the world-building especially the details about the alien Kreelan Empire and because of that I was delighted when the author sent us this prequel to read. And what I can said about First Contact? It is as well written as the other books in the series and it has an awesome premise (more on that later) but ultimately it proved to be not as gripping as the original trilogy purely because this is a prime example of Military Sci-fi and I am just not into that.
Thea: Prequels are tricky, tricky things (just ask George Lucas), so when I heard that Michael Hicks was going to write a prequel to In Her Name, I felt both excitement and trepidation. The thing that made both Ana and I love In Her Name so much were the characters of Reza and Esah-Zhurah, and naturally, they couldn’t be in First Contact. I had my doubts. BUT, I am happy to report, that though First Contact is not as epic or as developed as In Her Name (which it shouldn’t be, as In Her Name has been re-released as a trilogy!), it’s still a well-written, welcome addition to a truly solid Space Opera. First Contact is, as Ana mentions, much more of a Military SF novel, and a pretty damn good one at that (although my experience with Military SF is embarrassingly limited).
On the Plot:
Ana: The premise of First Contact is awesome: it opens with a human surveyor ship, the TNS Aurora, whose mission is to find new inhabitable worlds, coming across with the first planet that seems to be already inhabited and by a sentient race. Driven by protocol, the ships’ commander makes the choice to stay and make First Contact, but unfortunately for them, the just found the Kreelan Empire. The Kreelans (a race of blue women warriors who wage war to honour their Empress) are extremely evolved in terms of technology and they soon meet the Aurora with their own warships. Out of this first meet, only one man will survive, the one known as the Messenger who will make the journey back home with a terrible mission: to tell the humans that they must engage in a war against the Kreelan or perish.
The first few chapters of First Contact were everything I have come to expect from this series. The idea of First Contact between species, the possible outcomes and strategies involved in the decision making process – for example: should the Aurora stay and make First Contact or should they leave to tell others what they found before they can be annihilated? – were intriguing and very interesting. Then, the Kreelan board the ship and the humans are taken to the arena to fight for survival in a honour-bound fight to pick the Messenger is both thrilling and frightening, and that’s exactly what I hoped for. That insight about what happens on both sides of the equation when contact is made for the first time. The humans, completely taken aback by the giant, ferocious blue warriors who instead of just annihilating them all, offer a chance for them to fight. What does that mean? When the messenger is picked and sent back home, he still needs to prove himself to his fellow humans, to make them believe what he has to said, without much proof and all the while the clock is ticking as the Kreelan set a definite date for their first engagement.
It is after the return of the Messenger that the book lost its appeal to me, because from them on, the whole story becomes a series of fighting sequences between different groups of humans and Kreelans. Without concentrating on a single group of characters, the PoV shift quite considerably between far too many people and even though the battle scenes were actually pretty cool, it became tiring after the first few. I fully understand that the book is basically Military Sci-Fi and I believe that those who enjoy the genre will probably like this one. But to me, it was missing that something more that makes me truly love a book: characters to engage with.
One last word: I think readers definitely need to read the original trilogy before reading First Contact as the knowledge of the Ways of the Kreelan Empire are really useful.
Thea: I have to echo Ana in applauding the brilliant opening to First Contact. It’s almost cinematic, the intrepid human vessel discovers a new star system with habitable planets…only to discover that these planets are already inhabited. The subsequent decisions that the crew of the Aurora have to make when they see huge alien vessels baring down on them (stay and attempt peaceful first contact? Or run away, if they think the aliens are hostile?) and their shock at the advanced nature of the alien technology, it’s all very thrilling, edge-of-the-seat stuff. My favorite scene in the book is in these early chapters as the twenty-some human survivors of the initial massacre are taken to the Kreelan version of the Coliseum, to fight to the death. Only one human needs to survive to bring the message back to humankind – the Kreelans are coming for war.
Something I think Michael Hicks does brilliantly in In Her Name and in First Contact is detail and create this fantastic new alien culture. The Kreelans are ruthless – they have had to be aggressive, powerful warriors to build and maintain their empire. When they come into contact with an alien race, they do not approach it with diplomacy; rather, they attack and weigh the strength of the new species. Above all else, Kreelans are bound to their honor and their religion – humans, without “blood song” are nothing more than mere animals. Their worthiness as an opponent is all that matters to the Kreelans, and their specific rites (the testing of the human crew from the Aurora in the Coliseum, the picking of a “Messenger” to send home) is beautifull conceived and described beautifully. The Kreelan way of thinking, their mission to grow and maintain their empire – which has served them well for thousands of years. Their technology (an intriguing blend of biology without reliance on data-processing computers) is interesting as well.
I also had a great appreciation for the human side of things – this future Earth (and federation of planets) is heavily politicized, and Ichiro Sato (the lone survivor of the Aurora)’s journey to convince and prepare them of the impending attack is an enjoyable one. Humanity’s preparation and the impending war are exciting things, although I do have to agree with Ana that the second half of the book was slowed down by a focus on preparation details that perhaps needn’t have been so lengthy. The first act of the novel is brilliant, the middle a little draggy, but the final act – war begins – is worth the wait.
On the Characters:
Ana: This is much more of a plot-driven book than character-driven and that made all the difference to me. Because the plot is concentrated on this first military engagement between the two species for the most part, the characters all came out as bland to me. On the human side, the PoV shifted so much between several military types, I could hardly connect with the characters. That choice also proved to be a complicated one, because the author had little time to develop them and so the only option left was huge chunks of info-dump about who the characters were every time a new one was introduced, sometimes even in the thick of action. That was a hindrance and a disappointment because there were a couple of perfectly good characters which I wished I had known better. Like for example the Messenger himself – a 19 year old guy of Japanese descent who basically carries the weight of world in his shoulder with a lot of responsibility and possible trauma because of all he’s been through that was never truly, deeply explored.
On the Kreelan side of the equation, even though it was freaking awesome to see Tesh-dar again, as she is one of my favourite characters in this series, I felt hers and her sisters’ PoV to be stilted and repetitive with the Kreelan mantra of making honourable war in the name of their Empress – if I didn’t have prior knowledge abut the Kreelans I doubt I would have cared or understood them as much as they deserve.
Thea: Admittedly, First Contact is much more of a plot-driven novel, with a large cast of characters…which, unfortunately, means that there was little in the way of character development. This did not bother me so much as Ana, perhaps because I am such a sucker for plotting and technicalities, but I did find myself sorely missing the connection that I had when reading In Her Name – there is no Reza or Esah-Zhurah here. I was beyond thrilled to see Tesh-Dar again (one of my favorite characters from the original trilogy) – my only complaint was that there wasn’t MORE of her, in detail.
On the human end, I, too, liked Ichiro (the messenger) a lot and cannot help but wish that the story was written more directly through his perspective. As it stands, every time I’d start to get into the groove of a character, they were whisked off, never to be seen again in some cases. I love ensemble cast storytelling, but I was disappointed with First Contact because of this lack of connection to the characters.
Final Thoughts, Observations & Rating:
Ana: Although I love this series and this author, I wasn’t crazy about this prequel. I would only recommend it to those who have read In Her Name and who have a fondness for plot-driven stories of the Military Sci-Fi variety. I understand that this opinion is rather limiting but unfortunately so is the book.
Thea: I enjoyed First Contact thoroughly. Although there was a disappointing lack of connection to characters, I thought the plotting was solid, making for an entertaining – if not especially deep – read. As far as prequels go, I’d still recommend starting with In Her Name and then working backwards to read First Contact for a little more perpective. But overall? I was pleased. Recommended, but more for the SF fan.
Notable Quotes/Parts: The first 34 pages of First Contact are available online and you can read them as a PDF here.
Ana: I am torn between a 5 and 6 but I will go with a 6 – because the book is actually pretty good in parts, especially the beginning. So: 6 Good – Recommended with reservations
Thea: 6 – Good, although it’s probably more of a 6.5.
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