Contact Imminent

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Kristine Smith

Published: 2003

Reviewed: 2006-04-27

Publisher: Harper-Collins

I always like it when a sequel is capable of standing on its own. I
picked up the fourth book in Ms. Smith's series---I've seen the others
on the shelf quite a number of times, but never got more than a few
pages into any of them. No particular reason, they just didn't grab
me right off and I wasn't lacking for reading material at the time.
For some reason, "Contact Imminent" looked more interesting, and I
after I'd sunk my teeth in, I started appreciating it and enjoyed the

As stated, it stands on its own, despite having a well developed alien
race with a near-human-but-not-human psychology. There's a lot of
material packed into momentary asides, and the book is focussed on the
culture clash between "humanish" and the idomeni aliens, so the reader
gets briefed by a thousand little one-line toss-off arguments, like
Colonel Pierce arguing that his cigarettes don't break the visible
food taboo of the idomeni. And I guess that's like what real people
do. We don't have struggles that just stop when they're done, they
echo and rebound and people keep talking about them afterwards.

The world does, however, revolve around the heroine. Jani Kilian is
at the center of everything, and always ends up in the middle of the
action even when she should be hunkered down in a bunker somewhere.
Just at the critical time, she'll get it into her head that she should
be involved in the action and bingo, she walks out and gets to observe
and perhaps play a critical role.

Strange, exotic, the first hybrid between humans and idomeni, she is
fought over by all the men in the story and always knows the right
thing to do next. She never makes a mistake throughout the story,
except once toward the end when it's necessary for her to be present
at a dramatic moment. I don't think she's actually a Mary Sue---a
manifestation of the author's ego---I think she's just the heroic
focus that everything revolves around. Oh, there's a few other
viewpoints that show up in the story as well, but it's the Jani Kilian
show from start to finish.

I found myself thinking of C.J. Cherryh's "Foreigner" series as I read
this book. The similarities are clear---the strong central character,
the oppressive and murky politics of the interface between species,
the not-quite-human psychology of the aliens. Ms. Cherryh, however,
has a much stronger characterization of the alien nature of the
aliens, and the unexpected differences in psychology that can keep
leaping up and biting her characters, whereas Ms. Smith is much more
interested in the idea of fusion between the two identities---and for
that they need to be fundamentally compatible. Ms. Smith explores the
ideas some, but in the end her heroine is too heroic to make for a
very interesting discussion.

I notice that I'm talking about this book as though I didn't like it,
and that's not really true. It's a fine book, but it just didn't
leave much of a mark on me. I suppose I would liken it to any
potboiler adventure novel---partway through, you already know most of
what's going to happen in the book, and there's no need to rush
through to find out. You can pick it up, read a dozen more pages of
political intrigue, lover's quarrels, and alien religion, and then you
can set it down again and come back later. A pretty good book, but no
new ground.