For six decades, astronomers around the world have been scanning the skies for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos. In 1984, the effort led to the creation of a program called Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). Surely, the organizers of SETI believed, someone, somewhere on one of the 100 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy would be reaching out in hopes of establishing a connection. However, as we know all too well, SETI’s efforts to date have come to nothing. Decades ago, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Enrico Fermi famously asked, “Where are all the aliens?” The lack of an answer has come to be called the Great Silence. And in Clowns, the latest entry in his long-running series of standalone novels about First Contact, Australian science fiction author Peter Cawdron offers a plausible explanation.
Where, indeed, are all the aliens?
In the novel’s preface, Cawdron writes, “First Contact occurred a decade ago with a traveling circus in the high-altitude desert plateau of Uzbekistan. The US Government has been covertly monitoring extraterrestrial activity around Earth since then but has struggled to make contact. They’ve kept tabs on the circus and its founder, Buster Al-Hashimi. Four years ago, Buster returned to the US to start a counter-culture group called The Clowns, challenging the sociopolitical status quo in America.” Buster is American. “His mother was born in Kansas, while his father is an Iraqi. Buster was a guest of the Iranian secret police for about eight years before escaping across the border to Turkmenistan.” And he has remained in Central Asia, using his circus as a front to smuggle female victims of male violence to freedom across national borders.
Clowns (First Contact #20) by Peter Cawdron (2022) 473 pages ★★★★★
A new revolutionary movement led by clowns
It’s now the near future, full of references to recent US Presidents and their policies. Soon, Washington DC, like many cities around the world, is in turmoil. Groups calling themselves clowns are demonstrating for revolutionary change. Dressed and made up like clowns from the Big Top, they seek change all across the board—not on any single issue, but change encompassing measures to combat racism, climate change, militarism, and violence of all sort against people and animals. “You think this is a circus?” they ask. “The real clowns are out there on Capitol Hill and over in the White House. Those that wear their neatly pressed suits and sit in their fancy swiveling chairs behind solid oak desks—they think they’re in command of this world. They’re not. they make fools of us all.” And those of us who fall prey to their delusions are lost in the fog of The Spectacle.
“We tell ourselves we’re looking for intelligent life out in space, but we don’t stop to think how little of it there is back here. . . We’re a species of infighting ape that’s spread out of control around the planet.”
Two remarkable women anchor the story
Apart from Buster the Clown, Cawdron’s tale centers on two young women.
- Breezy (Breanne de la Cruz) is a United States Secret Service special agent. As the story opens, she is stuck at the drugstore in the hospital where her partner works as a doctor. She’s just buying a Coke, but the four masked men who walk in with guns drawn give her other ideas. When one of them shoots a security guard, she rushes into action and, in short order, kills three of them and captures the fourth. This heroic act leads to her suspension from the Secret Service. Director Johnson is apologetic but firm.
- Olivia (Gwen Mary Jane Stacy Watson) describes herself as a high-end prostitute who services powerful men in the US Capital. She is on a shoot in a palatial suburban home for a top-secret deep fake porn video targeting a highly placed federal government official. (“They’ll use AI to change appearances and set up some poor sap.”) But when later she arrives near the rendezvous point to collect the $4000 owed her, she sees the woman with the cash for her shot and killed in a parking lot.
The most successful of Cawdron’s First Contact tales
These two women, each remarkable in her own way, will end up interacting with Buster and the clowns following him and with Director Johnson in a high-speed tale that twists and turns in more and more surprising ways. We learn more and more about them as the tale unfolds. And they open our eyes to the vast potential of intelligent life in the cosmos. Cawdron has outdone himself with Clowns. It strikes me as the most successful ever in his long-running First Contact series.
Clowns is more philosophical than most of Cawdron’s other work. The novel explores the critical theory of The Spectacle, an approach first advanced in 1967 by the French Marxist philosopher Guy Debord. To say that it’s thought-provoking is an understatement.
About the author
Peter Cawdron has written and independently published dozens of science fiction novels, including the 20 books to date in his First Contact series of standalone novels. Born in New Zealand in 1967, he has lived for many years in Australia. However, he also lived for a time in the United States, which is the setting for much of his fiction.
For more reading
This is one of the novels in Peter Cawdron’s insightful First Contact book series.
For more good reading, check out:
- The five best First Contact novels
- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- 10 top science fiction novels
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading
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