cover image The Alien Years

The Alien Years

Robert Silverberg. Eos, $24 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-06-105035-0

Silverberg (Sorcerors of Majipoor) returns to his 1986 short story ""The Pardoner's Tale"" as the inspiration for this sobering and frightening novel of extraterrestrial invasion. The narrative opens seven years hence, with the arrival of alien spaceships on Earth, an event that has a devastating effect on the Carmichael family. Pilot Michael Carmichael is killed trying to fight the huge firestorms in Los Angeles that erupt when the alien ships land; his wife, Cindy, leaps at the chance to go aboard one of the UFOs and become an interpreter for the ""Entities""; and his brother, Colonel Anson Carmichael, is summoned by Washington to help cope with the situation. Before there is time to react, however, the aliens' intent becomes known as they disrupt all electricity and plunge civilization back into the Dark Ages. Silverberg's story is clear-eyed, credible and occasionally bleak. Faced with an omnipotent enemy, mankind's only alternative is to refuse to capitulate and to attempt to endure. Isolated and relatively safe in their mountain ranch, the extended Carmichael clan tries to go on with their lives while working on ways to resist their oppressors. Silverberg's technique of leapfrogging several years ahead between chapters furthers momentum, and while the enemy in his story is disturbingly inhuman, the focus of the tale is the humanity of his characters and their efforts to keep hope alive. The novel's ending seems arbitrary, but Silverberg's rich characters, his dead-on target vision of modern society, his mastery at building tension--all are in evidence in this notable outing from one of the very best. Agent: Ralph Vicinanza. (Aug.) FYI: Silverberg has won five Nebulas and four Hugos in his 44 years as an SF writer.