Book review: Rejoice by Steven Erikson

Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart - Steven Erikson
****


At a time when mankind is continually extending their view of the solar system and the universe, Steven Erikson considers the possibility of First Contact in rather more down to earth terms. If a technologically superior alien intelligence were ever to make its presence known, why considering the mess we are making of things would it bother going anywhere with Earth? Might it have its own reasons? Might its intentions be hostile? Might it simply think that humanity needs a bit of a helping hand to get it through a "difficult phase"?

The first thing an alien intelligence has to do of course is make contact and how it does it is going to be an important indicator of its nature and intentions. In Rejoice they decide to make their presence known in a fairly dramatic and yet at the same time a bit of an unexpected way by having a UFO abduct science-fiction writer Samantha August in broad daylight. Why (other than perhaps the hubris of an author) choose a science-fiction writer as a mediator? Why not the President of the USA? Do I really need to ask that question? You can already see why this might be considered a superior alien intelligence.

And it might also give you a clue as to why an alien federation is making their presence known through the form of an AI on the ship and why they are attempting to establish Samantha August as the emissary to act as a go-between who will explain their intentions and the purpose of their intervention. Because, believe me, the President of the USA, seemingly more so than any of the other world leaders here, isn't a bit happy about their actions. Foreseeing an "Extinction Event", a depletion of Earth's natural resources, the alien federation has in a single intervention almost completely turned the familiar order of borders, capitalism, exploitation and human agency on its head.

Exclusion zones of invisible domes excluding any human access have been established around areas of mining, fishing and deforestation. War flashpoints in Gaza, Sudan and even scenes of domestic violence in American households have been rendered powerless, guns no longer function, it even proves impossible to land violent blows on another person. Suddenly, all the borders and barriers that have led to greed, violence and social inequalities have been erased, national leaders no longer have any power and there is no longer any need for people to be at each other's throats. And that's only Stage 1 of what this external alien federation force has in mind. What the hell is humanity going to do if they can't act the way they have done for millennia? Has humanity been civilised or neutered?

Well, that's an interesting question and only one of the many profound ways that Steven Erikson, abandoning his usual fantasy genre, steps back and looks at the state of the world today and human nature and considers our basic essential purpose on the planet. It's also a timely look at social inequalities, environmental issues and the waste of finite resources that are surely leading humanity on the path to self-destruction and potentially extinction. Rejoice: A Knife to the Heart is also refreshingly different from the other explorations of imminent apocalypse and surprisingly funny with its cast of characters, its irreverent and gleeful satire of how those in positions of power respond to a complete rewriting of rules that we have all accepted as unchangeable. Like the best science-fiction, Erikson challenges our basic assumptions and views the world in ways that, lulled into comforting acquiescence, we are too timid to imagine.

And what more exciting - and perhaps necessary - way of having those assumptions and rules overturned at the same time as we discover that there is intelligent alien life out there? But are their intentions benign or, by challenging the basic defining characteristics of what makes us human, will this not result in the true extinction of humanity as we know it? Aside from the philosophical questions, aside from the first contact exchange of ideals, Erikson has far more to offer in Rejoice, with hints at wider activity in the solar system, potential colonisation of other planets, secret space missions, with government conspiracies, Greys and UFO abductions.

The author perhaps doesn't take full advantage of the opportunities and the subsequent 'Stages' of Rejoice doesn't really extend that much on the initial premise, but Erickson seem more interested in the realities of the here and now. If he decides to take his first venture into science-fiction further, there are certainly plenty of paths to follow here. But perhaps the idea is that we need to find those paths for ourselves, before worse comes. We might not have alien intelligence out there to intervene and save us from ourselves, but scientific intelligence is already sending out the warnings and Erickson's Rejoice presents a somewhat disquieting view of the harsh reality of where ignoring those warnings will inevitably lead.

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