Under a dimming sun, extinction is our future, and a lone scientist our only hope – the tagline on the cover.

Usurper of the Sun by Hosuke Nojiri [1] is a Seiun Award [2] winning novel [3] of first contact. This was a difficult novel to read; despite the grim nature of that first contact I found it difficult to engage with many of the characters, especially the heroine Aki Shiraisha.

I’m not sure why I found it so hard to engage, certainly there’s a lot to admire in Aki as a scientist, as a person of great ethical strength, and as a woman.

But I do wonder if some of her spirit, her soul, was lost in the translation from Japanese.

The cover blurb describes this story as “compellingly poetic” [4], and whilst I was moved to finish it, I did not see or feel the poetry in this novel.

I will give Mr Nojiri serious props for coming up with a truly alien alien to base his first contact scenario on. This is hard to do convincingly, and it is executed well here. The Chekhov’s Gun that eventually provides the line of communication is perhaps a touch obvious [5], but is well placed in the storyline nevertheless.

The other criticism I have is that the elements of humanity favouring the “shoot first, talk second” approach to the unknown Builders sometimes look like straw men set up to be obviously wrong. This does not seriously damage the book, but it does jar on occasion.

Overall I have mixed feelings about Usurper of the Sun: I don’t regret reading it, but won’t be in a hurry to reread it.

[1] He also wrote the Rocket Girls light novels. And with any luck Haikasoru will translate the last two Rocket Girls novels sometime this decade. L

[2] The Seiun Awards are the Japanese equivalent of the Hugo Awards. That Seiun translates as nebula amuses me somewhat. J

[3] It was actually the original short story that won the award.

[4] The blurb is attributed to Paul Levinson, author of the The Plot to Save Socrates (which I haven’t read).

[5] It is obvious in context, but I won’t be spoiling it in this review.