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Alien In a Small Town Paperback – November 13, 2015
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"A wonderful story, beautifully told." -- Brynne Chandler, screenwriter for Gargoyles and Batman: The Animated Series
"Jim Cleaveland's first novel, Alien In a Small Town, is a philosophical meditation on Science and Theology. It's also a lot of fun. A truly alien extraterrestrial, appropriately named Paul, goes on a moral quest in a world of humans. From a sexy female android to space hermits, Cleaveland presents a universe of wild possibilities that never loses its moral center." -- Brad Linaweaver, author of Moon of Ice and The Land Beyond Summer.
About the Author
Jim Cleaveland is a writer, cartoonist, and classical animator originally from Pennsylvania but currently living in California, where it is too hot and he genuinely misses snow. He is the creator of the long-running science fiction webcomic, The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!
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I was pleasantly surprised by the book. First, the fundamentals: The writing is excellent and well edited: I found exactly one typo in the book ("a capella" instead of "acapella"), The book was not at all what I expected (it's a romance, for instance... though, admittedly, _The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob_ could also be labelled a romance).
The genre is science fiction. The protagonist is a woman who was raised Mennonite, rebelled, became a space-engineer, did some space engineering, had a melt-down, and returned home to her Mennonite home. Second place in the "protagonist" category is the alien Paul, a large rock-like entity that eats rock, looks worm-like, and has tentacles. Paul has chosen to go live in a Mennonite community for his own inscrutable reasons (which do get explained, half-way through the book). They're both broken people, both misfits who have problems relating to other humans.
Both the main characters are religious, and it's set in a religious community. It makes for a very interesting read; science-fiction definitely, but the plot is driven entirely by the characters, morality, relationships with people, relationships with God, guilt, and forgiveness.
Some quotes from the book (no spoilers):
“He wants to join the church,” Ruth said. “You’re not gonna tell him he shouldn’t, are you?”
Still, that the prejudice against conscious artifacts should be greater than that against aliens surprised him. Then he remembered where he was, in a land where advanced technology was anathema, and Barney’s point made perfect sense
“Cause this town needs a little color. And I like you.”
“Oh. Thank you,” Paul said. “‘Color’?”
“Diversity. Spice. Excitement. Something to break the monotony,” she said.
“Oh,” he said. “I thought that was exactly what people here didn’t want.”
She smiled wickedly. “Yeaaaaaah.”
“What’ll you do if mankind wakes up evil one day and decides to kill you all and steal your tech and stuff?” She amended it, “Well, wakes up eviller.”
A surprising number of genengineered and artificial beings were attracted to religious and luddite lifestyles, and there was a lot of talk among psychologists about why this was so. Perhaps it made them feel more human. Or perhaps it was that a being who knew himself inarguably to be a creation took solace in the notion that his clearly flawed creators were creations themselves. Like the near or remote ancestors of everyone in town, Barney had expressed a desire to escape the industrial civilization that spawned him, and Ruth had welcomed him.
The story is an exploration of morality and religion from three very different points of view. Most of the events take place in Pennsylvania among the Mennonites. This itself I thought was a brilliant idea for a clash of cultures, but Jim makes it work.
We see aliens in PA interacting with humans. Humans in space interacting with aliens. We also see humans in space interacting with humans, and it all makes sense and works.
I will wait patiently until Jim writes his next work, because I think it will be worth reading.
In the small Mennonite community of Eppleburg, Pennsylvania, Indira Fenstermacher and Paul Dwightson are struggling to find their places in God's universe. They are very different---Paul belongs to an alien race called the Jan---but in reaching out to each other they find mutual support. This is a wonderful story about the power of love and faith.
Not an alien invasion or slam-bang action book, but a well-written, very evocative book that uses the developing relationship between the human protagonist and her alien counterpart to explore what it means to be human, materialism, relationship, the idea of home, family, conscience, and spirituality, in the clash between radically different cultures and points of view.
Quite a nice book.
In the first place, the book is mostly a story about its own setting. The plot points, such as they are, are largely ordinary events in the lives of the characters, and are only loosely tied to an over all progression. The book is also quite concerned with spirituality without, I'd say, crossing directly into the territory of religious fiction.
It is this last attribute that earned it's five star rating for me. I know, I will long remember the explanation for why a sentient robot has decided to join the technology shunning Old Order Mennonites, "Or perhaps it was that a being who knew himself inarguable to be a creation took solace in the notion that his clearly flawed creators were creations themselves." I don't know that computers will ever think enough like humans to be persuaded by such logic, but it is a very logical and unique way to look at the question and that's what Speculative Fiction is all about.