The Rosetta Man by Claire McCague
Reviewed by Alex Binkley
Estlin Hume is an outcast until he’s retrieved from his remote run-down shack in Alberta by a Harrier jet and whisked away to the South Pacific because one of his few friends is convinced he can communicate with two aliens who have mysteriously arrived on Earth.
Lyndie, as his pal Harry Hatarei calls him, is The Rosetta Man whose ability to talk with squirrels with his thoughts and attract other wildlife had made his life miserable until the jet sets down in his yard. It remains just as bizarre as he’s moved against his will from New Zealand to various Pacific islands as the world’s super powers flex their military might to impress and hopefully control the aliens who hang out in rafters and other unusual spots mostly unconcerned with what the humans do.
The two odd-looking creatures aren’t spying on the ships, planes and soldiers. Rather they’re mainly interested in staying close to Estlin because they can understand his thoughts and he can explain theirs to the military escorts and scientists who follow him everywhere. Estlin finally realizes the Waetapu are on Earth as observers in the expectation that humanity is about to destroy itself in a senseless war and they want to make a record of it. However, no one wants to believe their intentions are that simple even though they obligingly enter cages and remain in sight when it suits them—these same aliens who had visited the earth when the dinosaurs were driven into extinction.
At times, The Rosetta Man reads like author Claire McCague of Vancouver is channelling Tom Clancy, Douglas Adams or Monty Python as Estlin and the rest of the characters she juggles in and out of the story attempt to understand the visitors. Estlin is pestered as the military, scientists and bureaucrats seek information on the aliens to fit their preconceived notions rather than comprehend the message the aliens are sending. Only Estlin understands that the Waetapu are mainly interested in all the attention they’re attracting for its potential for creating war. Other than Harry and a few others, no one believes him.
Humour is an uncommon and not always appreciated commodity in science fiction and fantasy. It’s a potent tool when handled adroitly as McCague does. She also does a masterful job of establishing clear identities for her large cast of characters so the reader should never become mixed up.
In an era when science fiction seems overloaded with military themes and starships, which fill the skies, her book is a refreshing look at what might happen if aliens were truly unlike anything we’ve imagined.
The Rosetta Man is published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.