This review is part of my judging effort for SPSFC2. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.
Starting the new year with an #SPSFC review of Alien Exit, by Geoff Nelder. For better or worse, here we go.
Okay, so right off the bat I have to say I preferred the original title: Exit, Pursued by a Bee as it said in the opening notes. And after reading the story, I see what Nelder was going for there. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked as a title? Oh well. Such is life.
We open on a quite florid and poetical setup at Glastonbury Festival with some heavy writing that circles back on itself later in the book. I was sceptical of it from the outset but the idea of a manned mission to Mars with this quirky protagonist couple could have excused a whole lot more flowery prose than what we got. Anyway, it was Glastonbury!
Well sorry, but the whole Mars mission thing didn’t happen.
I’m not even mad, this was worth it.
Instead, there was an earthquake and Glastonbury Tor collapsed and some weird phenomena began rising from the wreckage. This event is repeated all over the world in an assortment of ancient sacred or sacred-adjacent sites, and strange unnatural spheres begin floating up into the sky. Frankly I was too hung up on Derek’s habit of eating his own earwax to pay much attention.
I’m serious. How many times did that need to be mentioned as a dominant, nay defining, nay sole character trait? Still, made him less of a sympathetic figure when his fiancée cheated on him I guess.
What followed was a very imaginative and interesting story of baffling alien weirdness, time-phenomena and humanity’s insignificance in the face of unimaginably advanced entities … almost completely tanked by the characters involved. I can really do no better than my esteemed fellow reviewer Starr in her “did not finish” summary:
At 50% in I was wondering why I was even continuing to read, I didn’t like the characters. They didn’t really fit their roles- or maybe it was my expectations. They are young adults -18/19ish years old, but they are working for NASA. Which would imply some sort of maturity and discipline. But Derek eats his own earwax and Kallanadra was a reckless maverick … the whole book is full of faulty hypotheses and chasing metal balls.
With the emergence of the spheres, time starts to behave in odd ways. Timequakes begin to occur, localised and widespread. The Bermuda Triangle is mentioned. Helicopter crashes, human/sphere interactions and acts of hostility are rewound and undone and hair falls out and it’s all very interesting and strange. We skip to 20,000 years in the past to show the spheres existing in different sizes and at different times, and that whole interchange of scenes was really intriguing, although Blake was … okay, aside from Kur he was one of the best characters, but that’s a pretty low bar to clear. I have to take my hat off to the craft involved in making the characters so unlikeable, even as I have to question why that was a thing that was done.
They even mention that other celestial bodies in the solar system have cratering that suggests these spheres were widespread, and we could have had a perfect opportunity to lean into the 2001-style monolith mystery by having them do all this on Mars (or maybe that would have been a bit too on the nose, I don’t know … I feel like it could have been done well). But instead they didn’t go to Mars, they just went into space and fucked.
So. Derek and his flaws we know about. Claude is a giant fucking arsehole and Kallandra is actively fine with that even though she seems to want to pretend not to be. Wish, who I think is supposed to be a semi-sympathetic villain of the piece, is a (single?) mother attempting to make it as a journalist by spewing misinformation and sowing divisiveness, and alternately being slapped down for it and rewarded for it by the media corporations that would definitely only reward her for it, also I think she goes mad with jealous love over Claude and what happens with him. I just didn’t get it.
And then the story ended. Let’s take a look at what the meters have to say.
We get some gross probe-dreams, and Kallandra and Claude fuck each other in space. I honestly can’t fault her but seriously, all these people can go to Hell. This story gets a Buffy fucking Angel out of a possible Buffy fucking Spike on the sex-o-meter. That’s reasonably tame, just for reference.
There’s a little bit of gore as a timequake cuts at least one dude in half, but otherwise there’s not much here. But MY GOD, how many times does Derek have to eat his own earwax? STOP. I’m adding a gobbet for that. So one flesh-gobbet and one earwax-gobbet for a total of two gobbets out of a possible five.
Plenty of really good WTF in this story but it was sadly hard to focus on. I love a good wacky alien tech-bordering-on-magic story and this was a solid one. I can’t help but wonder, though: if Blake went back in time, was given a knife, then came forward, why would the carbon dating reveal the knife was 20,000 years old? Was it 20,000 years old when Blake got it? Or did it age as it came with him? Wouldn’t it have been basically new? Anyway, I give Alien Exit a sphere out of a possible sphere on the WTF-o-meter. Those spheres, incidentally, are interchangeable alien sphere artifacts from any sci-fi story you choose to reference that has spheres in it. There are plenty, and this is a worthy addition for all my complaining.
My Final Verdict
The Golden Gate Bridge gets destroyed, which checks the “this is a science fiction action disaster story” box. “Aussie” has an “e” at the end, it isn’t spelled “Aussi”. I couldn’t find anywhere else to write this so it’s going in the final verdict. All in all I felt a bit let down by what could have been a really interesting sci-fi surrealist adventure. Someone with more appreciation of the complex human element might enjoy this on its own merits and to them I say, enjoy. Two stars.
 Look, I’m not going to bear down on this too hard for the infidelity angle. Monogamy isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine. I got the impression these characters were kind of immature for this sort of expectation anyway. However, the commitment is real and if you’re not going to commit, the bare minimum you can do is let the other person know that you’re going to fucking biff it. So well done on making the hero of your story look like a shitty childish arsehole compared to the guy who eats his own earwax. That’s an achievement and I’m not even being sarcastic.