Friday, October 30, 2020

Turnbull, We Come in Peace (2020)

Mark Turnbull, We Come in Peace. Self-published, 2020. Pp. 330. ISBN 979-8-63268-086-8. $8.71.

Reviewed by Don Riggs

Kristine Kathryn Rusch blogged on August 5, 2020 that courage was essential when starting to write as a serious endeavor. Not commendations and blurbs from established authors, or traditional publishing holding your hand and walking you through the steps to your first book’s appearance on the market, but courage to do what you feel impelled to do: writing and putting your book into print and out there, even without the mark of an impressive publisher embossed on the jacket.

That is what Mark Turnbull has done with We Come in Peace, which he describes on the cover as “A Sci Fi Thriller.” One can feel that drive to write down all those ideas in one’s head and put them out on  page after page—327 of them up to the final sentence of the novel. There is a complex interweaving of plots on several levels, including a protagonist who works for a major tech company involved in various inventions involving space exploration, defense contracts, government officials on the highest levels, alien abduction and the threat of alien invasion—see the title, pregnant with foreboding—and much more domestic dramas, including the protagonist’s rocky relationship with his wife, complicated by rocky relationships with his older brother, a lightly touched upon attraction, apparently mutual, between himself and a co-worker, and barely remembered incidents from his own abduction by aliens.

There is a driving force that kept me turning the pages, kept me concerned with the well-being of Ryan, the protagonist and first-person narrator, but there were these gaps, these abrupt transitions, which seemingly had to do with the amnesia resulting from alien abductions, but the movie critic in me saw as continuity problems, including an unannounced flashback about three quarters through the novel where he and his brother apparently are having their first date with his wife—the once and future wife—and another woman.

The schematic descriptions of the aliens and their experiments on the narrator reminded me somewhat of details from Whitley Strieber’s purportedly factual accounts of alien abductions from the late 1980s; I hesitate to say whether this is a case of literary influence or the use of a common source in the collective consciousness. The pressure of their imminent invasion or attack or psychic manipulation of humanity is in part what drives the narrative, and this is inflected by the apparent collusion of some of Ryan’s coworkers and superiors with either the aliens or the government agencies involved or some other shadowy conspiracy.

At the end of the novel, the narrative continuity is now deliberately disrupted, as the consciousness of the narrator himself evolves, or goes through a series of jumps, and I as a reader was unable to follow this flow, or perhaps series of leaps.

I am glad to have read We Come in Peace, and may come back to it again at some point to see if there is a higher coherence that I missed this time around, and particularly this will be interesting if Turnbull comes out with other novels along these lines. As it is, however, I am both impressed by his impetus and baffled by the text.

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