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Signs of Life, Cherry Wilder

May 1, 2012

Signs of Life, Cherry Wilder (1996)
Review by Cheryl Morgan

The story begins on a cargo ship in deep space. The regular crew is blessed with a bunch of VIP passengers to look after and the ‘help’ of a unit of the private auxiliary force, Silver Cross, who are supposedly galactic do-gooders but who have a profoundly militaristic culture – sort of like grown up Boy Scouts run by Clint Eastwood in one of his tough commander roles. In a very short time, the ship is in deep trouble. Something has gone wrong, everyone is herded into the evacuation modules, and everyone hopes that the Earth-like planet that the crew has spotted is as habitable as it looks. Not to mention that they don’t burn up on entry and that they manage a decent landing.

Meanwhile, afloat on the planet’s seas, a trading ship is filling her holds with spices from remote islands. The crew is part of a society descended from another disabled spacecraft that landed there centuries ago. When they spot strange lights in the sky that look suspiciously like man-made craft, the captain decides to investigate. It means a perilous trip over the unexplored ocean, but at worst they should come back with a catch of the mighty blackwing ray, and at best they may return with passengers from the stars.

The evacuation hasn’t gone well. Maintenance on the space worthiness of the modules has not been good. Fear and panic is hampering the efficient working of the crew. Something in the atmosphere seems to be inhibiting radio contact and there just isn’t time to work round it. One module reports splashdown in mid ocean, another lands in a swamp and begins to sink, some are not heard from at all. What may be the single surviving craft touches down on the beach of an island far out in the ocean. It just happens to be the one where the crew is outnumbered by Silver Cross auxiliaries.

What follows is a tale of first contact with your own species plus the political intrigues between the crew, the Silver Cross and the passengers. It is an entertaining and thoughtful tale, perhaps marred a little by the exaggerated nature of some of the characters. The Silver Cross in particular are so stereotypically stupid that they could exist only in an American war movie or in a survivalist militia in Texas. But I very much liked the additional dimension provided by the exploration of the personal growth of the android members of the castaways now that they were outside the environment they had been built for.

This is certainly a book that is worth reading, and I will have to go look for more of Cherry’s work sometime soon.

This review originally appeared on Emerald City.

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