3zekiel offers a thoughtful treatment of First Contact.

Have you ever given serious thought to what First Contact with an alien race from the stars might be like? Not what you might have come across on film or in a novel like The War of the Worlds, but a picture based on reason and known science? Well, that’s what you’ll find in the latest novel from Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron. It’s a truly thoughtful treatment of First Contact. 3zekiel is nothing short of brilliant.

A story set in the African jungle

The novel is set in the jungle of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There, the teenage son of a rogue Catholic missionary tells the tale. Joshua Chambers and his friend Jana, a local girl, are sixteen when an alien satellite descends into a fixed orbit in the sky hundreds of miles above them. Sometime later, American helicopters descend on the village, and a small team of soldiers and scientists emerge. Petty Officer Garcia of SEAL Team Two leads the troops. A senior Indian-American scientist named Pratul Arjun Khatri-Lagharin (known as Pretzel) is the lead in what is expected to involve First Contact.

3zekiel (First Contact) by Peter Cawdron (2019) 409 pages ★★★★★ 

Together, the team’s leaders and the two youngsters (acting as guides) set out to prepare for the aliens to descend from the satellite above. But their preparations are cut short when a Russian military operation takes them captive. The Russians, it turns out, feel profoundly threatened by the aliens and intend to destroy them with nuclear arms.

A three-way conflict now becomes four-way

What now appears to be a potential three-way conflict among the aliens, the Americans, and the Russians acquires a new dimension. A troop of gorillas the two teenagers know enters the fray. Jana “talks” with the troop’s leaders using sign language, and they play a significant role in the story that ensues.

A thoughtful treatment of First Contact, and it’s all based on established science

One of the central elements in 3zekiel is the “space elevator” the aliens use to descend to the Earth. You might be thinking (as did I) that this element, setting the story in the Congo, and involving gorillas that communicate with sign language are all way off base. But as Cawdron explains in his Afterword, it’s all squarely based on established science. And so is the nature of the alien encounter that ensues. Once Josh, Petty Officer Garcia, and Pretzel escape from the Russians and proceed to the alien base at the bottom of the space elevator, there are further surprises.

About the author

I was astonished to read in Peter Cawdron’s Afterword to 3zekiel that “only two of [his] twenty-plus books have been picked up by a traditional publisher.” I knew writing for publication was tough (since I’ve been doing it, too, for half a century) but I had no idea just how tough. All of Cawdron’s work I’ve read so far has been extraordinarily good, quite the equal of the best that comes out these days from Tor or DAW. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Cawdron is Australian.

For further reading

This is one of the novels in Peter Cawdron’s insightful First Contact book series. And I’ve included Peter Cawdron on my list of Seven new science fiction authors worth reading now.

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