Book Review: Dilation
Reviewed by Kathy L. Brown
A big story painted on a big canvas
The human drive to survive propels this skillful epic sci-fi, where humankind suffers from its own folly and an alien race plans for its annihilation
Author Travis Stecher takes on a vast subject in Dilation: A 10,000 Year Sci-Fi Epic—nothing short of the near-destruction of humanity. The story brings together people from across nations, planets, solar systems, and historical epochs to combat an extinction threat from light-years away: a technologically advanced alien species known, to the humans at least, as the cephrast.
The book opens with momentous events. In the year 2023, rural Georgia, USA, a hastily assembled team of experts attempt first contact with a crashed alien spacecraft. Unfortunately, the cephrast visitors are killed almost immediately, and before long American scientists decipher the intent of an automatically activated beacon from the crashed ship: Exterminate all humans.
Earth and its future colonies have one hope for salvation. The cephrasts won’t arrive for 10,000 years.
Humankind devotes itself to defense preparation, learning much from the advanced alien technology aboard the spacecraft. One ingenious power is time travel, which allows elite cadres of soldiers, scientists, and technicians to travel to the far-distant future for the final alien showdown. Thus, the reader can follow characters met as members of the disastrous first contact team into the actual alien invasion battles.
The story moves forward in time, centering on two members of the first contact team: Denise Walker, an ecological scientist turned xenobiologist, and Isaac Fowler, a security agent. But the story also moves backwards, focusing on a Martian pilot, Nadia Raynor. We ask, Will humanity establish themselves in another star system? Will they even survive to do it?
Dilation’s prose is skillful and the voice confident. The author’s wry humor grounds the narrative, especially when things get dark and heavy. “This was still a victory worth celebrating. They’d gone toe-to-toe with machine-controlled ships and survived. Granted, they’d spent most of the fight hiding in a different universe, but it was a feat nonetheless.” It’s easy to trust the omniscient storyteller, even with the tale’s vast and complicated material.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of different characters appear in the book; it is the story of humankind rather than any one person. The characters are well-rounded individuals with unique voices, but none have too much “screen time” to stand-out as a point-of-view character. Everyone in the book has the same primary motivator: to save the human race by defeating the aliens. Anything else is of minor concern in comparison.
But we also get the human stuff that goes along with the conflict: their personal ambitions, family relationships, love interests. Some situations even describe alien-invasion doubters or the various international conflicts of “normal life,” which degenerate into war among the humans.
Much of the story is told in engaging prose. Sometimes, however, the tale rushes through narrative when it might have been more effective as a scene.
The book integrates worldbuilding details into the story, enriching the background in the reader’s mind while moving the narrative forward, like when the Martian pilot, Nadia Raynor, receives some discouraging news while in the base mess hall: “With her appetite gone, Raynor dumped the entire plate into the recycler and walked back to her bunk, allowing the bin to separate her food’s molecules for future use.”
Dilation brings science fact and speculation together in a plausible way. It maintains the wonder at the possibilities inherent in scientific discovery—the heart of successful science fiction. An extensive reference list is included, which underscores the facts behind the fiction.
Readers who enjoyed The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey will appreciate Dilation’s grand scale, well-rendered characters, and ingenious melding of scientific possibilities with logical speculation about what lies ahead in humanity’s future.
Genre: Science Fiction / Epic
Print Length: 462 pages
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