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Bewildering Stories

Michael E. Lloyd, the Observation trilogy

reviewed by Bertil Falk

Aliens With Their Own Reasons For Existing

Observation One cover
Observation One
Author: Michael E. Lloyd
Publisher: Bewildering Press, 2007
ISBN: 0978744330
Ever since H.G. Wells wrote in 1898 about Martians attacking Earth, visitors from outer space have been legion in science fiction. The idea has been twisted in all kinds of directions, as has its opposite: that of Earthlings invading other planets. However, ET’s before 1934, as Isaac Asimov put it, “were cardboard, they were shadows, they were mockeries of life.”

But in July 1934 something happened. Wonder Stories published the short story A Martian Odyssey by Stanley G. Weinbaum. After that, when it came to ET’s, SF would never be the same again. Asimov, once more:

“The pre-Weinbaum extra-terrestrial, whether humanoid or monstrous, served only to impinge upon the hero, to serve as a menace or as a means of rescue, to be evil or good in strictly human terms — never to be something in itself, independent of mankind.”

And Asimov concludes: “Weinbaum was the first, as far as I know, to create extra-terrestrials that had their own reasons for existing.”

A year and a half after the publication of A Martian Odyssey, Weinbaum died prematurely at the age of 33. But his legacy lives on. Just look at the strange behaviour of the visitors who landed in Denver, in the Christmas novella “All Seated on the Ground,” by Connie Willis, in Asimov’s Science Fiction, December 2007. They behave like true Weinbaumian ET’s.

And now we have a complete trilogy by Michael E. Lloyd, in which the ET’s are cast in a mould of their own. This story about visitors from the planet Dome, who have parked their star-craft Mater in stationary orbit above Earth, is spread over the full-length novels Observation One: Singing of Promises, Observation Two: Standing Divided and Observation Three: Changing Hearts. All three are published both online at Bewildering Stories, and also in book form by Bewildering Press.

These visitors influence Earth and the Earthlings in a rather special way. In a sense, they handle and manipulate them quite deplorably: from the point of view of us earthbound beings, that is. The manipulated individuals are well aware that this is happening; but it matters not, for after they have been usefully employed, their memories of the Domans, as the visitors call themselves, are blanked out. Take a look at this conversation from Observation Three:

‘Toni! Wake up and listen to me! I’m real confused. I disagree with a lot of what they’re doing, and yet I’m still going along with it ...’

‘That’s because they’ve organised it that way. You know that perfectly well. And they are treating us very nicely ...’

‘Oh, why are you so accepting, Toni Murano? Don’t you ever wonder about their honesty and their sincerity? They seem to be twisting the truth every which way they fancy, for their own purposes ...’

‘I think that’s a biased view, Maelene. I agree they’re quite manipulative, but I still think they’re doing it as gently as they can, and their objectives do seem very honourable ...’

The first alien to "turn up" on Earth is named Carla. But she is, in reality, situated in the orbiting star-craft Mater. What Toni, the hero down on Earth, actually meets is her “radimote.” This is fully explained in Chapter Four of Observation One, where Lloyd puts these words into the “mouth” of the senior Doman officer known to Toni as Quo:

Carla the Finder is a radimote. We create her using many technologies, including some which we see you have already learned to exploit in very basic ways on Earth: laser beams for the powerful focusing of uniform light, radio waves for vision and sound, radar for detection and measuring distances, capacitors for storing energy, and much, much more. But simply and essentially ... the Carla you have met and embraced in spirit, Toni, is a many-dimensioned, opaque, mobile hologram.

And that hologram is mimicking a human. To Toni’s eyes, Carla is a very good-looking woman. He cannot perceive what she and her colleagues actually look like — if indeed they look like anything at all, up there in orbit above the equator.

In this way, Lloyd succeeds in making the visitors more than Weinbaumian. Their real forms or shapes are not accessible to Earthlings. They very much have their “own reasons for existing.”

But the Domans also have physical needs. They have come to visit us for not the fun of it but to solve their own problems. By the end of the first novel they have successfully assessed, with Toni’s help, the (lack of) integrity of humankind’s public figures. They then release Toni, eradicating his memory of his dealings with Carla.

In the second novel, the primary reason for their visit shows its face. They wish to map the natural resources of the Earth, because they simply want to trade the stuff they need for stuff that is badly needed on Earth. To take this project forward, they choose a different “victim / tool / co-worker”; but he turns out to be rather ineffective, so they fall back on their reliable conscript Toni once again.

This story about extra-terrestrial Jesuits, who are practicing “The end justifies the means” without using inquisitorial tools, is an intricate one, with many sideshows brought into play by the main story. At the end, when the Domans leave Earth to go back to their home planet, whose sun is dying, all the pieces of the puzzle have fallen into their proper places, and the visitors reward Toni most generously by manipulating his “underworld” great-uncle to give him a large sum of money.

But they also allow Toni, as Quo puts it, “to remember almost everything that has happened since you left Barcelona. But I am about to ensure that you will never reveal any aspect of your dealings with us.”

The Observation trilogy is an exciting story, and the sideshows are sometimes very interesting. There is Toni’s first girlfriend, who turns out to have fallen in love with the very woman Carla had mimicked as a radimote. And there is the ongoing relationship between Carla and Toni.

I felt the sightseeing and the concert visits did not add a lot to the storyline: they are well told, as is everything in this trilogy, but they take up a little too much space, in my opinion — but others’ opinions may well be different! And one thing is for sure: Michael E. Lloyd has added a very new kind of alien to the list of literature’s famous ET’s.

Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk

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