Sawyer, Robert. Illegal Alien.

NY: Ace, 1997.

I’ve read most of Sawyer’s novels over the years and the one thing they all have in common is, they’re just so . . . Canadian. Sometimes almost to the point of cliché, in his portrayal of both nice Canadians and untrustworthy Americans.

The Americans here are mostly Frank Nobilio, the President’s Science Advisor, who is present when an alien spaceship from the Alpha Centauri system lands in the Atlantic, and Cletus Calhoun, a popular astronomer with a PBS show in the mold of Carl Sagan. The crew of aliens — the Tosoks — tours the world and then is ensconced in a dorm on the USC campus in Los Angeles, when Calhoun is found murdered, very bloodily. The local police arrest Hask, one of the crew, and the DA files charges of First Degree Murder. The rest of the book is mostly just a courtroom drama with aliens, with Hask’s defense attorney being played by James Earl Jones, playing Perry Mason. And the Tosok, who aren’t even humanoid, seem to adapt very quickly to all the procedural niceties of American criminal justice. I shook my head most of the way through it, frankly. I won’t reveal the ending, except to say that Flash Gordon would be proud.

I have a real problem with the basic premise — that a visiting alien in a “first contact” situation could possibly be arrested by the local police. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. As Frank notes at one point, the sheer threat of assassination (by a nutjob, a religious fundamentalist, a foreign agent provocateur, whatever) would be so much on the minds of the U.S. government — or any other terrestrial power — that the FBI would immediately take over. (If the book had been written after 2001, it would probably be Homeland Security.) For that matter, they wouldn’t be relying on a squad of local cops to protect the building where the aliens were living. It would be a battalion of Special Forces of some kind. And to expect the ordinary processes of U.S. criminal law to prevail is simply naïve. The president would immediately sign an Executive Order declaring alien affairs to be the province of the federal government, and probably of the UN. And to think the local DA would be allowed to press for the death penalty of the first alien being ever to visit Earth — potentially an act of war against a technologically superior species — is simply ludicrous.

Something else Sawyer ought to avoid in the interest of verisimilitude is any attempt to portray characters from the American South. His version of Clete Calhoun’s speech patterns is cartoonish at best — especially given that the man is a world-renown astronomer. And he apparently has no idea whatever of the proper colloquial use of “ya’ll.”


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