The Lesson


Caldwell Turnbull


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

December 31, 2019

on't Poke The Bear!" - that is the lesson that space aliens wish to teach humanity. The Ynaa arrive from outer space, but don't deign to reveal to earthlings why they have come (the novel never explicitly states the reason, but it becomes clear that the Ynaa are collecting an extensive sampling of Earth's biological life. Why the Ynaa desire this information is never explained (unless I missed it). If any human reacts negatively to the Ynaa presence, the aliens respond with disproportionate power. For example, if you harass a Ynaa, they might simply tear you to pieces with their bare arms. Why does humanity need to learn this lesson, aren't we smart enough not to poke the bear? Apparently not, according to Caldwell Turnbull.

This is a frustrating story. Characters are introduced, such as Jackson, and then vanish, playing no role in the overall story. It's as if Turnbull had some character development projects lying around, and he wove them into this story, even they contribute nothing to the advancement of the plot. The two main characters are Derrick, a young islander who becomes the human intermediary to the Ynaa (Derrick is the only person on Earth with enough interest in the aliens to apply for the position!?!?); and Mera, the Ynaa ambassador who takes human form, and apparently has been living as a human for several hundred years. It is never explained why Mera feels the need to adopt human form when her mission is to collect biological specimens. When the Ynaa spaceships shows up, the Ynaa on board also assume human form. But why don't they try life on Earth in the form of a cheetah, a porpoise, an albatross or a tortoise? Why just adopt human form and then hang out in the Virgin Islands? If there was an explanation of why the Ynaa appear after allowing Mera to work alone on Earth for centuries, then I missed it. The presence of the Ynaa is lacking a lot of explanation. Mera is supposed to be collecting biological samples, so why does she waste all her time sitting idle in an office acting like a human?

The Ynaa have a stardrive, technological marvels, and are obviously so advanced that they can generate nearly-indestructible human bodies that live for hundreds of years. Yet ambassador Mera sits in an empty office with no visitors? Despite all these potential wonders and lucrative secrets, NO ONE on Earth can be bothered to come talk with Mera and plead for gifts or for knowledge? Where are the astronomers, the theologicans, the historians, the scientists? Derrick, who serves as Mera's aide, has little to do. Shouldn't Earthlings wonder about Ynaa art, Ynaa culture, and Ynaa religions? The story made no sense to me.

Why do the Ynaa respond to every provocation by the Earthlings with a disproportionate reaction? Why does the poked bear maul anyone who annoys it? Inevitably, an earthling does something stupid, and the bears smashes back. The reader is meant to be outraged or sympathetic to the stupid humans, but I was not impressed. This novel was highly praised, but it the hype is not justified. I will not be reading any additional books by this author, I recommend skipping this novel.