THE SEEKER’S RIDDLE by Andrew Calhoun

A seventeen-year-old kid from Corpus Christi in the Southern Union, an insular and backward-looking area of the country (world? not sure), wants out.  He is obsessed with space, and astrophysics.  It is the 23rd century, and citizens of the SU are not accepted into top universities in other areas because their education is so backward.  Locke Howden and his ten-year-old sister are orphans, living off the charity of their housemates.  He figures if he gets a job mining asteroids on a three-year hitch, then goes to a decent university, he will finally be able to return to Earth and get his sister for a decent life elsewhere.

On the elevator vehicle to the space station transportation center, he meets a young woman pilot and her autistic brother who is continually tapping something.  Bullies enter the room, and do bullying things, Locke intervenes, and the sister is grateful.  He eventually figures out that the young autistic man is tapping out some mathematical equations.   They reach the space station and board their transport to the outer fringes of the galaxy, but help!  The ship is boarded by pirates, and the sister, the brother and Locke are kidnapped and taken to an heretofore undiscovered planet.  Fortunately, this planet is like earth with gravity, biosphere, atmosphere, and all that.  What is also on the planet is a downed HUGE spaceship.  The planet is the headquarters for the pirates, and they want to get into that spaceship but it apparently still has internal power, and the security system won’t allow them in.  In fact, there is a vestibule which has a wall containing a puzzle which must be solved in order to get into the rest of the ship.

Turns out the pirates are ‘hacked androids’ — human brains and consciousness in an android human-like body, and the ship won’t let them even near it.  But the planet also has a community of human farmers, and the ship will allow the humans into the vestibule. But nobody can solve that puzzle.

The autistic brother is actually a savant, with some extraordinary knowledge, and the pirates kidnap him hoping he will be able to solve that puzzle and get them inside the ship.

All very space opera-y and fun, and filled with some interesting ideas.  But there were some things that kind of took it out of the A+ category for me.  First of all, not sure why the protagonist was a 17 year old boy.  It didn’t quite work for me, seems like it should have been a young twenties person.  Second of all, and most annoying, even though the time is the 23rd century, the book is filled with current, and not only current to 2018, but current to mid-20th century’s slang and phrases and references.  Like when a character who is in a hurry quotes Frost:  “I’m afraid I’ve got promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  Really?  Folks would still be quoting a somewhat minor American poet of the twentieth century in the twenty-third century?  naaaaaah.  And lots of tired old cliches, which are tired old cliches even now, like “avoid like the plague”.  Stuff like that.  It put me off.

This is billed as a First Contact novel, so I am not letting the alien out of the bag if I tell you that, yeah, there were aliens, the main spokesalien of which seemed a pretty jazzy hipster, which also struck an odd note.  I can go with the alien speaking English using one of the character’ brains and body, but it seems just a little far-fetched that it would be so culturally attuned in his attitude and speech. Well, culturally attuned, that is, to the twenty-first century American culture.

But anyway, as I said, it was fun, and hey, aliens! Right?  Nifty weapons.  A boots-on-the-ground battle. The good guys win, the bad guys go to android heaven, and the rest who have a righteous mission to save the rest of their android brethern and sisteren from slavery, go and do just that.

(Yes, I know that sisteren is not a word. I was just being cute.)

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