Something Coming Through


Paul McAuley


Fantasy / Science Fiction


Date Reviewed:

September 17, 2022

n the near future, the alien Jackaroo arrive at Earth announcing that they want to help humanity. They bring the gift of space transport - fifteen terminals are setup on Earth, and at regular intervals, enormous spaceships depart to distant solar systems. Human explorers and colonists have fifteen new worlds to explore - all are inhabitable by mankind. For some reason, each of the fifteen worlds circles a red dwarf star, but the reason for this is not explained. On these new worlds, humans find the ruins of previous alien civilizations. It is clear that each of these planets were occupied for extensive periods by other cultures and aliens, though those prior inhabitants have long since vanished. But sifting through these ancient ruins, humans discover new tools, technology and artifacts - humans get powerful new items, but much of what they discover is not understood. Some of the recovered objects are dangerous.

Something Coming Through follows two protoganists in alternating chapters. One set of chapters follows Chloe Miller. She is employed by a group called Disruption Theory. When alien relics are brought back to Earth, they spark new ideas and memes. Sometimes, contact with an alien object will make humans seem to be infected by alien desires and thought processes. Chloe investigates new human organizations to see if they just standard human craziness, or if they are driven by alien memes. At the beginning, she goes to a park where a speaker will explain new ideas - is this nondescript old man really under the control of some alien object? Chloe meets two children - Fahad and Rana. Fahad seems to be gripped by a compulsion to keep drawing the same scene over and over again, a desert landscape with a strange city of spires and turrets. Young Rana talks about a make believe friend she calls Ugly Chicken. Chloe wonders - is this evidence of some alien artifact?

The second protagonist is Vic Gayle, a policeman. Thirteen years ago, Vic was one of the first colonists who emigrated to Mangala, one of the fifteen alien planets gifted to humanity by the Jackaroo. Despite the exotic setting, it seems that humans have replicated their culture on each of the new worlds. Vic is a detective who deals with the same types of crimes that would handle back on earth: drugs, theft, and sadly, murder. At the terminal where the Jackaroo spaceship docks, a man has been found dead. It appears he was killed in an unusual way - his brains have been fried - as if someone held an alien ray gun to his skull and pulled the trigger. The evidence around the terminal indicates that there was a fight, and the dead man had a partner who escaped. A quick search determines that the dead man had a false identity - what was he doing here on Mangala, what happened to his partner, and who attacked the two men with an alien weapon?

The novel reads like a police-procedural, as Vic hunts the killers, and Chloe tracks down the mystery of the alien relic. McAuley has done an excellent job of plotting here, there is a lot of action. Some characters die. Alien artifacts come into play. There are violent criminals involved in the hunt for the treasures.

The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is that I felt there are too many unanswered questions in the end. Are the Jackaroo truly benevolent? It seemed to me that although McAuley wraps up all the particular mysteries his protagonists are investigating, he leaves the bigger questions open. What happened to all of those previous civilizations that occupied the fifteen worlds before humans showed up? Are these fifteen worlds actually staging grounds, laboratories where humans must prove their worth before the Jackaroo elevate them to a higher level of galactic citizenship? I see that there is a sequel to this novel, Into Everywhere, perhaps that has some of the answers to these questions.