Aggressor Six by Wil McCarthy
I missed a nap for this book, dammit! I stayed up all afternoon after an exhausting trip to the children’s museum because otherwise how would I learn why the aliens blew up all those space colonies and what form the main character’s mental illness would take. Could they be related??
Aggressor Six is a tight, well-contained story with expansive world-building and intense emotional resonance. The book follows a severely traumatized space marine in his mind-bendingly difficult task of understanding and predicting the behavior of the aliens threatening Earth. There’s mystery (what do the aliens want?) and tension (is this guy ever going to be allowed to heal?) set in a world that we don’t get to see much of, but which feels gratifyingly vast. The aliens don’t make many appearances, but when they do, their biology and psychology work. The spacecraft and super science are not the subjects of multi-page info-dumps, but what we do know makes sense and is consistent. The characters don’t go on and on about the future history of humanity, but throwaway lines (“boy, those Clementines must have had some wild parties”) tell us an interesting and believable story behind the story of, you know, the destruction of the Earth. And the answers to the big questions hit just the right note of expected surprise.
I suppose I could quibble about the characters. What were their names again? The ending was abrupt, and the love story did need developing. But I had fun reading Aggressor Six. I couldn’t stop reading it, in fact, until it was over. What’s more, the story is staying with me.
There is a theme here (and in other books by Wil McCarthy) of racing against time to prevent an unimaginably huge calamity, and the procedural myopia we develop under such circumstances. An alien fleet heading toward us? Buckle down, everyone, and build more laser guns! Train harder! Sleep less! Don’t waste time on chit-chat move move move! Anyone who has experienced a panicked rush like this knows that it causes more damage than it fixes. The implacable advance of death doesn’t demand that we stop having feelings. Precisely the opposite in fact.
Read Aggressor Six for a gripping story of what makes us inhuman.