Joe Haldeman plays tag in The Coming
, as the narrative is passed from character to character in a seamless, if ultimately disappointing, tale set in 2054. Haldeman, whose honors include the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell awards, puts Gainesville, Florida, and 20 or so characters under the microscope to study a chain of events in the wake of a local astronomy professor receiving a mysterious message that may be from aliens.
Professor Aurora Bell receives a message from space that simply states, "We're coming." The message appears to be alien, and according to Professor Bell's calculations, the vessel that sent it is headed toward Earth and will arrive in three months. As the local population and the rest of the world begin to examine what a visitation from a superior alien force might mean, speculation looms about whether or not the message is a hoax. The arrival approaches, and Professor Bell and those around her become embroiled in the media circus. The politics and intrigue of the situation take on a life of their own.
Haldeman paints a vivid picture in The Coming of a world on the brink of another world war, where homosexuality is illegal, technology is advanced, and yet, humans really haven't changed that much. The tension in Florida is a microcosm that reflects the larger picture of Earth in trouble. But The Coming doesn't really get interesting until the final third of the book, and even then the ending is disappointing. Every few pages the story moves on to a different character, so most of the them are a bit flat. Haldeman has focused the story so tightly on one city that all the important events take place off stage and the characters have little to do but react. --Kathie Huddleston
From Publishers Weekly
Acclaimed Nebula and Hugo award-winner Haldeman delivers a disappointingly weak tale of the turmoil wrought by a message from outer space. Thin on plot, character and suspense, very little about this novel convinces, except details such as the prevalence of Spanish phrases in casual conversation and some techno gizmos. Clear as astronomy Prof. Rory Bell's name, the message "We're coming" is broadcast from only a 10th of a light-year away to mid-21st-century Earth. The message senders will arrive in three short months and will tolerate no attempt to block their "peaceful" landing. While Rory engages in political battles within her university and against the U.S. president's hawkish reaction to possible alien invasion, another, wider-scale battle among the European nations seems destined to launch WWIII. Meanwhile, a local mobster threatens to expose Rory's husband's illegal homosexuality, which would destroy both his and Rory's credibility. Unfortunately, relating the narrative by more than 20 different characters drains any tension from the story and results in disjointed, stalled storytelling. The concluding revelation about the aliens' nature and intentions, threadbare from overuse by other writers, arrives mercifully quickly. (Dec. 11) Forecast: Haldeman's widespread and well-deserved reputation for exciting and thoughtful work plus marketing to his core SF audience will put lots of books on shelves, but fans of the author and newcomers to his work will withhold the positive word of mouth that can help propel titles to major success.
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