If ET Returns Your Call, Pretend You’re not Home: The Cloud by Ray Hammond

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If ET Returns Your Call, Pretend You’re not Home: The Cloud by Ray Hammond

As I read The Cloud by Ray Hammond, what has stayed with me is the premise.

Set in the near future, in The Cloud, a radio signal anomaly becomes the  first alien contact.  What disappointed me was the lackluster prose and that his characters lacked depth. They were flatter than the skinniest of crepes.

***SPOILERS***

When a young researcher, part of a research facility on the Moon, discovers the Cloud as 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.

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.

The Girl with All the Gifts: The ABZ’s of Zombies

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The Girl with All the Gifts: The ABZ’s of ZombiesA review

Currently on Amazon Prime, The Girl with All the Gifts is a 2016 film directed by Colm McCarthy (Peaky Blinders). Starring newcomer Sennia Nanua as Melanie, the cast includes Glenn Close, Gemma Arterton (Hansel and Gretel) and Paddy Considine (The Bourne Ultimatum).

Cover for The Girl With All the Gifts

The Girl With the Gifts (IMDB)The Girl with All the Gifts  is a zombie movie.

Unlike most zombie movies, The Girl with All the Gifts concerns a fiercely intelligent little girl who happens to be a zombie. Written by Mike Carey (Peaky  Blinders, The Boy on the Bridge), from his book with the same title, like 28 Days, it is set in England.

 What sets this movie apart from others in this genre is its point of view.

Rather than a story focused on the struggle of survivors to find safety, it is about an awakening and self-acceptance, a story about letting go and the willingness to change. As Melanie, Sennia Nanua is a standout. Her performance alone is a reason to see this film.

  In a barricaded research facility, nine-year old Melanie’s room is a jail cell.

Each morning, before the soldiers come, she hides her only possession, a picture on a greeting card from the world before the “hungries” came. As she waits in her wheelchair, she places her hands where they can bind them. Before the soldiers wheel her to school, she greets each one with a cheery “hello.” They ignore her efforts to connect.

School is a room within the compound. Melanie joins a class of twenty-five or so. Like Melanie, each student is restrained.

 All the children sit quietly as Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton) begins the lesson. A bright student, Melanie loves Miss Justineau who is fond of her. When Miss Justineau touches Melanie’s shoulder, Sergeant Parks scolds her. Touching any of these children it is a dangerous move. To make his point, Parks approaches another student and bares his arm. The student clicks his teeth together rapidly, triggering the same reaction in all the children, except Melanie, who stops herself.

By seeing the clicking teeth reaction to the sergeant’s bared arm, Melanie understands why the soldiers fear her and her classmates. The children are dangerous.

 She knows that hungries roam outside the compound. She knows that classmates who enter Dr. Caldwell’s lab never leave it.

Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) is convinced she’s close to a cure.

Soon, she’ll find something to fight a fungus that destroys memories, turning its victim into a killer. Searching for answers, Caldwell dissects the brains of her subjects. Despite Miss Justineau’s protests, Melanie is her next subject.

Unlike other hungries, these children can think and experience emotions.

But, they are still killers and Caldwell prepares while Melanie is strapped to an exam table. When Miss Justineau tries to rescue Melanie, marauders, intent on stealing food and supplies, drive outside hungries into the compound. When the men break into the lab, Dr. Caldwell is injured.

Melanie saves Miss Justineau by killing the man attacking her.

Sinking her teeth into him, she has her first honest-to-goodness zombie meal. Compared to her daily bowl of writhing worms, the man tastes like the chef’s special in a five star restaurant.

Determined to protect her teacher and knowing that her zombie tummy is full, Melanie guides Miss Justineau to safety.

Still determined to dissect Melanie, a limping Dr. Caldwell follows them. As Sergeant Parks and few other soldiers are leaving, they stop the truck to pick up Justineau and Caldwell. Melanie wears a muzzle and rides on the truck’s roof.

Soon, Melanie wins the trust of Parks by outwitting the hungries and finding ways around them.

Using walkie-talkies, Melanie and Parks scout for safe passages. In the city, the group finds that many hungries are changing. The fungus inside them has now broken out of their bodies resulting in huge stalks and pods.

Dr. Caldwell warns: if the pods break open, the human race is finished.

Soon, they find a movable research lab, a place that offers safety but no food. Although she is dying, when  Dr. Caldwell sees all the equipment, she breathes a sigh of relief. She wonders what size head clamp Melanie wears.

In the meantime, as she noshes on the occasional feral cat, Melanie looks for supplies.

When the last soldier dies, leaving only Parks to protect Miss Justineau, Melanie makes a discovery. The hungries that killed and ate the last soldier are children. And like Melanie, they can think. Unlike Melanie, they are feral.  Waiting for Melanie’s return, Dr. Caldwell has taken steps to prevent Miss Justineau from interfering while she plots Melanie’s dissection.

After confronting and neutralizing Dr. Caldwell, Melanie makes a decision.

When that decision leads to the unintended death of Parks, she grieves. Can she protect Miss Justineau?

The story ends when Melanie turns a corner in this new world where teachers are valued.

If I were a teaching, I’d love to have a student like Melanie, but first I’d hide my cats.