Wednesday, September 24, 2008
"Distant Cousin," by Al Past
At 385 pages, "Distant Cousin" is a satisfyingly thick book that will probably take you several nights curled up by the fire to read, unless you are put off by the thought of an alien watching you from the moon. In that case, it may take longer, depending on how many times you look over your shoulder. But soon you will come to realize that this alien only has your best interests at heart. What's more, she's cute, and she looks like us, and
for good reason, too. She's a distant cousin of humankind, a race of people who left earth many, many years ago and settled on another planet in another galaxy. Now, this race is sort of like your several-greats-ancestor who moved to Tuscaloosa way back on the genealogy tree, so now that branch of the family talks real funny and eats things you'd never put in your mouth. You'd never recognize those Tuscaloosans as kin, either, even if you bumped into them nose to nose.
Well, when this astronomical "cousin" risks her solitary mission to warn earth people of an approaching meteor storm, things don't go as she expected.
Past offers some interesting twists and turns in our girl's earth adventures (I love how she deals with the bad boys at the rest stop!) and he serves up a very satisfying conclusion. I thought the book was a little slow paced at times, but I thought the same thing of "The Poisonwood Bible," and look where that one ended up on the charts. On the other hand, some passages had me reading faster, and I know that some readers appreciate a more gradual build up. I was also told that there is a face on the cover, which I could never make out, unless it was some sort of vague constellation. I figured if it was that hard to find, then it shouldn’t even be mentioned, but, lo, and behold! When I copied Past’s cover to put with this review, I could see the face! (Can you?)
This book had a refreshing new premise that I have not read anywhere else, and it has a nice mix of varied characters. I also enjoyed the realistic motivation at the end. (I don't want to give specifics away and spoil the ending, okay?) and I like the tension and surprise twist in overcoming the final obstacle.
Al certainly knows his aliens.
Shirley: Hey, Al...it is you, isn't it? There's a glare on your space helmet from the sun.
Al: Yes, it's me! Sorry! This is my first interview from the moon—thank heavens I write fiction! Let's get off the porch and go inside!
Shirley: Wow, the moon is awfully barren, especially up close. I'd hate to be here by myself. What made you think of setting part of your story here?
Al: Only the first scene was set here, really. It was because I didn't want there to be any doubt that Ana Darcy was not from Earth. I could have played that for its possible suspense value, but the story wasn't about whether Ana Darcy was really an alien or not. I wanted the reader to see us Earth people from an outsider's point of view from the very beginning.
Shirley: You gave new meaning to "Man in the Moon," or, rather, "Woman in the Moon." I really liked the events you created to assimilate the alien into society, where she didn't really fit in, but people made room for her. Have you ever been a stranger in a strange town?
Al: Thanks! I'm from west Texas. I had a friend who went exploring out in the desert and lost the plug from his oil pan. He was in serious trouble until a rancher flew by in his plane, landed on the dirt road, took him to the nearest town to buy oil, and then flew him back to his car and whittled a plug for the oil pan. He wouldn't take any money. He told my friend, "Mister, this is tough country. It would never have been settled if people hadn't helped each other." There are bad guys in Distant Cousin, but the ordinary folks are pretty decent people. Never mind what the Coen brothers say in No Country for Old Men. I've lived there; they haven't. Oh, OK, Cormac McCarthy wrote the book and he lives in El Paso, but hey, I grew up there! My dentist told me El Paso water contains lots of lithium, which tends to make people happy. Cormac McCarthy is from Tennessee, which is kind of like Tuscaloosa, since you mentioned it. Maybe he should drink more of El Paso's water.
Shirley: It would be nice if the moon had any water at all. Ahhhhh! A meteorite shower! Where's that secret moon observation post? And don't tell me it's Top Secret! I don't want any dents in my hairdo. *Whew,* thanks, Al. I owe you a Milky Way shake for this. Say, why isn't this base visible from Earth?
Al: No, this base is not Top Secret. After all, you're sitting in it! Your hair looks lovely, by the way.
Shirley: (patting hair) Aw, thanks, Al.
Al: I expect you could see Ana Darcy's base through the Hubble telescope, but that telescope is in Earth orbit, and hard to get to. For an earthbound telescope, well, it's just too small. It's about the size of a New York City apartment. I appreciate the offer of a Milky Way shake, but I have stars in my eyes for a Mars bar, if you happen to have one....
Shirley: Oh, trying to separate a girl from her chocolate, are you? That could be dangerous, you know. Your book has a lot of pages. How many light years did it take you to write it?
Al: Hmm. Well, a light year is a unit of distance, so, uh, well, I'm sorry. I can't figure that high. How about Earth years? It took about a year and a half to write, but it took twenty years to figure out. Now, multiply that by 186,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 x 365 x 22.5 and get back to me. OK?
Shirley: Okay, but it may take me awhile. Wait a minute... what's that shaking? Meteorites don't feel like that. No... do you think? It couldn't be the Mother Ship! Oh, but it is. I hope the aliens are in a good mood. Hey, I have a great idea! Here's my lipstick... now, hold still... quit resisting!
Al: What are you doing? Have you gone loony?
Shirley: I just drew a smiley face on your space helmet. Now the aliens won't feel threatened. No, really, it looks good, sort of like Bozo in a space suit. Let's go meet them. Uh... you go first. What's this? You're giving me your next manuscript in case you don't return? What's it about?
Al: Bozo in a space suit, eh? I guess that's better than lipstick on a certain porcine critter. The next manuscript will be the fourth in the series. Ana Darcy is still quietly raising a family in an out-of-the-way corner of New Mexico. Her twins are now twelve and becoming characters in their own right. And yes, there are still lots of cats and international intrigue. I can't tell you any more except the title, which will be Distant Cousin: Regeneration. I got in a rut with those. Volume 2 is Distant Cousin: Repatriation and 3 is Distant Cousin: Reincarnation. Maybe I'll ask those aliens what they would recommend. Will you go along and back me up?
Shirley: Oh, no, you'll be fine, as long as they've had lunch and don't carry laser guns. Good bye, Al.
Al: Vaya con dios, Shirley. You're a hoot. It's been a pleasure and please take this fresh moon pie back with you. Y'all come back now, you hear?
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