This weekend, I read Déjà Vu, a First Contact novel by sci fi author, Peter Cawdron. The big question is always: Are they friend or foe?
It’s the beginning of the 22nd century as we meet Jess, a young astronaut. Jess is busy doing maintenance while floating outside a huge spaceship, orbiting the Earth days before blasting off to a distant star system.
Cawdron’s strength is with moment- to-moment details that put you there. Another is his extensive knowledge of what’s going on in astrophysics and where it might lead.
Jess is tired and eager to complete her tasks so that she can re-enter and get some decent sleep. Jess’s spacesuit has become uncomfortable. A strand of hair is driving her nuts and she struggles to ignore it as thick padding on her fingertips makes push buttons a challenge.
Like Jazz, the protagonist of Cawdron’s My Sweet Satan, Jess must cope with shifting realty. In Jess’s case, reality shifts again and again.
The scene replays, but instead of the Earth, Jess sees another planet, a massive gas giant ringed in ice. Jess and we as readers are confused when we’re back to maintenance and the pesky strand of hair. The scene repeats, but Jess sees the strange planet again as she experiences her death when her ship explodes.
And there’s something else—lots of eyes and they’re all looking at what’s left of her.
Then she’s outside the ship again. Not so fast, what’s going on? We and Jess want to know. Jess starts questioning her reality and begins to mix it up, ditching the chores and doing space somersaults as her alarmed crew members panic. Then Jess finds herself in several familiar/unfamiliar environments, including Africa where she’s being chased by a lion and then slogging through a snowscape.
Wtf is going on? We and Jess want to know.
By force of will, Jess has escaped an amusement park time loop (you-are-there) VR fun ride and now finds herself in a huge part-time science lab. Her sudden manifestation startles the young scientists who have been tinkering with what’s left of her, taken from the pieces of her ship, destroyed thousands of years earlier. Much of Earth was destroyed when another spaceship bound for this same system exploded before it left orbit.
Humanity made its way back technologically and here we are! What’s left of Jess is a chunk of brain resting in a glass jar with some wires. Okay! I love VR!
Jess is understandably upset. The young scientists do their best to make her VR life comfortable and she learns that everyone is neuro linked to “Veritas,” a super Google. Jess makes the best of it, including ignoring the flirtations of a young maintenance worker whom she calls “Pretty Boy.” Then Jess is attacked by the many-eyed aliens. Because the bad ET’s don’t know that she’s virtual, she and her brain jar escape with Pretty Boy’s help.
Pretty Boy takes Jess and her brain jar to see his grandfather, Gal. We learn that humanity is confined to a few small domed settlements on a hostile moon.
The oppressors are a coalition of AI’s and the many-eyed aliens who look like sea slugs. Gal gives Jess a whole new robot body that looks just like her. It’s a fem-bot with a cute little cabinet in the chest for her brain jar.
When Gal asks why the many-eyed slugs would want to help the AI’s, Jess (she’s an astro-biologist) tells them that it’s all about what’s for dinner and we’re on the menu.
The aliens track Jess and her friends down and Jess grabs a flamethrower, sweeping it through rows of eyes ala “Say hello to my lil’ freh’ you alien bastards!” At last, taking one alien out, Jess dies in battle.
It is thousands of years later and Jess finds herself back on Earth. Her welcoming committee is a woman and a cow.
Humanity is back, but like the time after the other spaceship exploded, making half of the Earth uninhabitable, it’s been a struggle. Everyone is dirt poor, emphasis on the dirt. Somehow, Jess has been brought back, brains, body and all to the far future where there is no indoor plumbing. Regardless, everyone knows who Jess is and she’s treated like Beyonce. Why?
Jess has been brought back for a purpose. She’s going to the Moon
in a spaceship built from plans ala Apollo 11. I’ll leave it there, other than to say that before the denouement, Cawdron gives a detailed account of what the Apollo astronauts overcame, the importance of what they achieved and why people need to know.
I really enjoyed this book and read it in two sittings. The unpredictable plot kept me invested. As to what happens at the end, does Jess complete her mission? I’ll say this: In Galaxy Quest, a film made several years ago, a character’s motto is