If ET Returns Your Call, Pretend You’re not Home.

The Cloud by Ray Hammond, a review

***Some Spoilers***

I read The Cloud, a science fiction novel by Ray Hammond, several weeks ago.

What has stayed with me is the premise, a first contact scenario set in the near future. What disappointed me was the lackluster prose and that his characters lacked depth. They were flatter than the skinniest of crepes.

 When a young researcher, part of a research facility on the Moon, discovers a small anomaly in a collection of radio signals emanating from another galaxy, he recognizes a pattern.

The Cloud cover

The cover of Ray Hammond/s The Cloud (from fantasticfiction.com

Others have already reviewed and dismissed this anomaly. Further study verifies this new interpretation and soon every scientist and his brother, sister and distant cousin are beaming a “Welcome E.T.” to “Iso,” the planet in the distant galaxy, where the signal originates. It will take about fifteen years for our signal to reach our new BFF.

Thirty years later, we find ourselves in trouble. In response to our invitation, there’s a galactic cloud of hurt coming our way. When it gets to our neighborhood, it will destroy all life on Earth. Oh dear. Before it gets to us, it takes an off-road trip to Mars and there goes the colony. There’s no one left.

Along with off-world settlements, we now have designer androids, human like and tailor-made for every “need.” One scientist sends his android girlfriend, “Melissa” on a space mission. She and several other androids leave for Iso’s galactic neighborhood. It will take four hundred and twenty-five years to get there and no pesky human thing like dying of old age will slow them down.

When an anti-android group kills all the new baby androids in a current factory batch, the group leader is forced to help the military with their new get-rid-of-the cloud-monster project. The group leader, “Bill” is a super duper computer scientist and there’s a new super-duper quantum computer named Jerome who wants to meet him. Jerome’s avatar looks like a frat boy.

When Bill discovers that our radio signals are beckoning the cloud, efforts are underway to turn them all off.

f.Of course, there’s always someone who thinks he’s knows better. In this case, it’s a science fiction writer crackpot with a cult following. So there’s that and then Jerome, who now looks like a Special Ops Marine decides to clone himself and run what’s left of the world after the cloud visit.

Hammond’s novel warns us of the danger of a super-intelligent computer, an AI that might decide it’s better off on its own. No more spoilers. I’ll leave it there.

As I said earlier, I really liked the question posed by this novel. Is it really a good idea to seek contact with another intelligent species? We risk a lot if it doesn’t go well.

I’ve read other writers whose prose and storytelling style is similar to Mr. Hammond’s.

Many are very successful, but after reading one or two for their works, I lost interest. The emphasis of this writing style is keeping the action and the plot moving, something I can’t argue with. But along the way, I have to care. His characters are roughly sketched in terms of physical characteristics, background and intent. There’s nothing underneath, no surprises.

It’s subjective, a matter of opinion.

For example, I just finished reading VanderMeer’s The Southern Trilogy, three related science fiction novels that offer incredibly rich prose. The intricate plot was challenging. All three novels were dreamlike and the characters enigmatic and complex, posing more questions than giving answers. I devoured them. Other readers weren’t as taken with them and reviews of The Southern Trilogy range from one star to five. Count me as a five.

And I’m positive that many readers will greatly enjoy The Cloud’s fast paced story based on a cautionary premise.

I think they’ll find their time on The Cloud well spent.

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