Every girl needs a giant telepathic space octopus BFF, amiright?
I’ve been reviewing a lot of fantasy lately, so I figured I would switch things up a little and cover Fluency, a nifty space opera from Jennifer Foehner Wells (aka @Jenthulhu). A lot of (mostly male) reviewers have their undies in a bunch because (*gasp!*) there’s a romance subplot, making it not real science fiction, but a horrible kissing book which will probably give your e-reader cooties. So, now that we’ve got that out of the way, what did I think of Fluency?
There are a lot of things in this book you have seen before. A small human crew exploring a mysterious, seemingly abandoned alien craft. References to Area 51. The threat of hostile swarms of pan-galactic, FTL-capable space insects. So if you are looking for something wildly original or “hard sci-fi” this is probably not it.
But it’s also not a straightforward, comfortably predictable space opera, either. It follows some tropes faithfully, but breaks a few genre rules as well. For much of the book, the reader isn’t certain whether they’re reading space survival horror (like Alien), science fantasy where aliens are benevolent and our government are the bad guys (like E.T.) or something in between (like Super 8). This uncertainty provides much of the narrative tension in the book, so I’m not going to spoil it by telling you which one it ends up being.
I’ve read a lot of books with unreliable narrators in the past year or so. I think this is the first one I’ve encountered where the narrator acknowledges her mind is being manipulated by an outside force. Is the alien navigator manipulating events to control the human crew, being honest about the bigger threat, or both? Is the crew’s leader experiencing paranoia and aggression, or just reacting to an extraordinary and terrifying situation? One thing I appreciated is that Wells does a good job of not telegraphing the answers. This gives the narrator’s choices the weight of a person forced to make hard decisions based on uncertain, incomplete information.
The bottom line? I enjoyed Fluency. It kept me guessing about the intentions and motivations of several key characters, and managed to tell a page-turning, complete story while setting up the series. I want to read the next book in the series, not because of any manipulative tactics like a cliffhanger, but because I’m invested in the possibilities, and want to see where this goes next.