In Damocles: When Earth is rocked by evidence that extraterrestrials may have seeded human DNA throughout the universe, a one-way expedition into deep space is mounted to uncover the truth. What linguist Meg Dupris and her crewmates aboard the Earth ship Damocles discover on Didet—a planet bathed in the near-eternal daylight of seven suns—is a humanoid race with a different language, a different look, and a surprisingly similar society.
But here, it’s the “Earthers” who are the extraterrestrial invaders, and it’s up to Meg—a woman haunted by tragedy and obsessed with the power of communication—to find the key to establishing trust between the natives and the newcomers. In Loul Pell, a young Dideto male thrust into the forefront of the historic event, Meg finds an unexpected kindred spirit and undertakes an extraordinary journey of discovery, friendship, and life-altering knowledge.
Told from both sides of a monumental encounter, Damocles is a compelling novel about man’s first contact with an extraterrestrial race.- Goodreads
I’ve recently experienced a few of the ‘first contact’ stories in a row in written or visual form. Each of them had a different impact on me. Of the lot (which includes The Sparrow and Arrival), Damocles is my favorite. I think it’s because Damocles is the one that’s actually truly about first contact. The Sparrow was more about man’s faith, and knowing all the facts before we judge someone. Arrival was ultimately answering a question about knowing the future. They were each good in their own way, but didn’t quite give me what I was looking for in a first contact story.
S.G. Redling’s Damocles is a prime example of why I mention hope and wonder when I talk about science fiction. I was hooked on this book by page three. It’s a beautiful read that puts you right there, experiencing making first contact. The way she tells the story – from both Meg and Loul’s POV – makes it clear just how ‘human’ both sides are. You think of them first and foremost as people before you even get into the aliens meeting aliens thing. This just gets reinforced over time, too.
And she makes you see them. She makes you see the beauty and strangeness in the human form. She does this as easily as she burns the image of the Dideto into your mind. Meg is the perfect person to witness an alien life form through. She’s got a huge heart and a sense of wonder. She’s used to dealing with people who are different – albeit not as different as the Dideto are. Her kindness, curiosity,and intelligence make you see Loul and the rest of his species as not only different – but gloriously different. From the nictating eyelid to the unrelenting stoutness of their appearance, it’s something to marvel at.
There is no unspoken distaste for the differences between the two races. This isn’t really Earthers meeting strange aliens. This is Meg meeting Loul and Loul meeting Meg, and then becoming friends. And this isn’t about two groups meeting where one is highly advanced, and the other is practically stone age, either. The humans and Dideto’s technology are only a couple hundred years apart, at best.
Damocles is also about the mistakes and misunderstandings that would really come with making first contact. From the moment Meg’s linguistics system screws up the first hello, it feels real. When Meg and Loul are finally able to get that first key concept across, you feel that too. That joy and wonder that makes you want to cheer for the characters rush through you. Similarly, it’s like you’re right there feeling the frustration when they encounter a concept that they can’t seem to translate. There was something that happened near the end that I thought spoke volumes about humanity and its inherent selfishness. “Because we asked.”
I can’t say that this book is absolutely perfect because it’s not. No book is. However, all things considered, Damocles is everything a first contact science fiction novel should be. It’s not some eight hundred page epic filled with too much information. Instead, coming in at 350 pages, it’s the perfect length for the subject. Sometimes knowing what comes after – the consequences of a meeting – can put a damper on the story as a whole. I’m glad we didn’t have that here. Damocles isn’t absolutely perfect, but it’s close enough for me.