Arthur D’Alembert

Universal Publishers / 184 pages / January 2001

ISBN: 0738802107

If you are one of those people who grind their teeth over every little typo and grammatical error, you are probably not going to enjoy The Song of the Swan. In its current incarnation, it is fraught with errors. Will the mistakes prevent you from appreciating the plot? Not if you’re smart; the novel has a lot to offer.

Witness the opening chapter, where the birth and death of a supernova are rendered in poetic, precise detail. Along with the death of 1987-A, we catch a glimpse of another out there in the far reaches of space. The nature of this being is hazy and vague, and we will not see it clearly. But, we will hear it.

One hundred sixty thousand years later, the last message transmitted by that being will reach Earth. Of course, this is just the beginning of the search, as humans struggle to understand the cryptic communication. But, will unraveling the mystery be the boon they hope for, or the end of life on Earth?

In a scenario much more likely than the touching cooperation of Carl Sagan’s Contact, the nations which intercept the message are determined to decipher the broadcast in secrecy. One never knows where a new weapon or technical breakthrough may come. But, to allow “them” to uncover any goodies first would be lunacy.

The Song of the Swan is long on plot, short on character development. The people working on the project are primarily tools to open the mystery box. And, like most tools, they are valued, but are not irreplaceable. And, like tools, no one stops to wonder how the implement feels about the task. A few hints and peeks are allowed into the main characters’ lives, but they are essentially unessential. Don’t worry, you won’t miss them.

The set-up of The Song of the Swan is interesting. It reads much like a television or film dramatisation of a crime. Dates, times, places — think of it as a science procedural, an in-depth look at a case-in-progress. Not much of a stretch when you consider the behaviour of the participants; in many ways, they are involved in the biggest crime on record.

In some ways, The Song of the Swan is not an easy read. There are the language errors that plague this first edition and will, no doubt, frustrate some readers. But, there are also no easy answers awaiting inside. You may never know the resolution of many of the questions put forth, and, perhaps, knowing is unimportant.

No. It’s not Contact, and it isn’t many other books I could name. It is a little book called The Song of the Swan and it muses on a different reaction to that first communication from out there.

So, give it a try now and keep your blue pencil locked away, or wait for the new, revised edition. With a little editing, it could be a contender.