Evan Mandery’s First Contact, Or, It’s Later than You Think, is in no way an easy book to review. Though it is science-fiction, it is so only in a vague sort of way since Mandery only uses science-fiction elements as a way to push further his reflections and allegories. If he doesn’t take you on a classical science-fiction like travel he does however makes you laugh, think and question in this smart and unexpectedly (more so than I thought it would be) funny book.
Blurb: A satirical joyride in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, First Contact introduces us to the hyper-intelligent Rigelians, who admire Woody Allen movies and Bundt cake, and urge the people of Earth to mend their ways to avoid destruction of their planet. But the president of the United States, a God-fearing, science-doubting fitness fanatic, is skeptical of the evidence presented to him and sets in motion a chain of events that will change the lives of his young attaché, an alien scam artist, several raccoons, and a scientist who has predicted the end of the universe. Parrot sketch excluded.
Mandery’s purpose in First Contact is not one primarily for entertainment, though it does do so. Instead, he presents us with a fanciful, clichéd and often downright absurd situation and tells a story that makes the reader think. I can’t pretend, of course, to know what Mandery exactly intended with the book, if he really does just want to make the reader reflect, and I’ll admit to having been at times confused as to what he was trying to do while I was reading, but it was without a doubt a fun read. Its complexity and especially the way it sometimes felt very deep and at other times very casual and in a "by the way" tone only added to that.
Interestingly, and very bizarrely, Mandery throws himself into the story as both a narrator and a sort of character, every once in a while dropping out of the narrative to go into some offshoot thought, justification (or lack thereof) or explanation. In most cases I would be the first to find that distracting, but it’s just that kind of book. The story in itself isn’t really all that important, and these interlude-like sections in their self-critique and ridiculous nature are for all intents and purposes as central to the novel as the actual plot. This brings up something else that Mandery does exceedingly well, to my greatest delight, the self-critiquing: we know that what he writes is unrealistic (in a sci-fi sense) and quite a bit ridiculous but of course we let slide since it’s more of a comedic book after all but it really gets good (if you like that kind of thing) when he starts openly discussing just how unrealistic certain aspects of his story are. Now that’s both funny and strange, as he goes so far as to write a whole scene where readers of his books are discussing it and it’s appearing in the book at the same time (since it’s a pre-written book, duh) followed be another scene of him discussing how stupid, arrogant and unconventional that just was.
Nevertheless, he keeps the reader reading through some pretty preposterously human non-human aliens, that are, of course, yet another allegory for a perfect (or not so perfect) human society. The story also ties up surprisingly nice for a book which I didn’t think was actually going to bother/be concerned with creating a relatively neat plot – that I liked even more. The characters are kept simple throughout the whole book, on purpose, as Mandery himself brings to our attention later into the book.
First Contact is definitely not for just anyone, but if the blurb or review interested you, then chances are you’ll thoroughly enjoy Mandery’s book. Mandery has written only one other novel, it's outside of the science-fiction genre, though it’s almost questionable whether First Contact is. There is no question however as to whether I enjoyed it. In fact it surprised me how much I liked it (something to be judged from how fast I read it—one day). If Mandery ever wanders back to sci-fi I’ll be sure to check him out once more, that is if I don’t check out any of his other future books.
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
Violence: not really
Sex/Language: None of both, it’s a very clean book
Evan Mandery's website: http://www.evanmandery.com/
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