Illegal Alien

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The highly-praised author of Starplex, End of an Era, and Foreigner presents a thrilling new story, a skillful blend of the great wonders of the universe and the harsh realities of life on earth. When a disabled starship enters our atmosphere, fear is quickly replaced with awe-and the incredibly intelligent members of the Tosok race are welcomed with open arms. But the growing spirit of trust and cooperation is shattered when a popular human scientist is found dead. The U.S. government provides a leading civil ...
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The highly-praised author of Starplex, End of an Era, and Foreigner presents a thrilling new story, a skillful blend of the great wonders of the universe and the harsh realities of life on earth. When a disabled starship enters our atmosphere, fear is quickly replaced with awe-and the incredibly intelligent members of the Tosok race are welcomed with open arms. But the growing spirit of trust and cooperation is shattered when a popular human scientist is found dead. The U.S. government provides a leading civil rights lawyer to defend the accused alien. And an unprecedented trial centers around not only one lost life, but the very essence of justice itself.
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Editorial Reviews

VOYA - Joanna Morrison
If aliens landed on Earth, what would happen? Maybe movies such as Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind have paved the way. In Illegal Alien, no one seems too concerned about a disabled spaceship piloted by members of the advanced Tosok race which lands on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean. The crew of Tosoks have landed to ask for help. Their craft has been damaged by comets, and they offer to trade their scientific knowledge for help in repairing their spaceship. At first, it seems to be a mutually profitable transaction. However, everything is called off when popular astronomer and television personality Cletus "Clete" Calhoun is discovered horribly murdered. All the evidence, forensic and otherwise, points to a Tosok called Hask as the murderer. Hask is arrested, defense attorney Dale Rice is engaged as his lawyer, and the stage is set for the trial of the century: the prosecution of an extraterrestrial for the murder of a human. Sawyer, whose The Terminal Experiment (Harper, 1995) was awarded the Nebula in 1995 for best science fiction novel, does a fine job here of combining science fiction with the elements of a legal thriller. Think of Illegal Alien as a cross-over title. It will appeal to readers of John Grisham as well as fans of science fiction, particularly readers of Spider Robinson and Isaac Asimov. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P S (Readable without serious defects, Broad general YA appeal, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780441005925
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/1999
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 1
  • Product dimensions: 4.26 (w) x 6.78 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert J. Sawyer has been called “the dean of Canadian science fiction” by The Ottawa Citizen.

He is one of only seven writers in history—and the only Canadian—to win all three of the world’s top awards for best science-fiction novel of the year: the Hugo (which he won in 2003 for Hominids), the Nebula (which he won in 1995 for The Terminal Experiment), and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (which he won in 2005 for Mindscan).

In total, Rob has authored over 18 science-fiction novels and won forty-one national and international awards for his fiction, including a record-setting ten Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Awards (“Auroras”) and the Toronto Public Library Celebrates Reading Award, one of Canada’s most significant literary honors. In 2008, he received his tenth Hugo Award nomination for his novel Rollback.

His novels have been translated into 14 languages. They are top-ten national mainstream bestsellers in Canada and have hit number one on the Locus bestsellers’ list.

Born in Ottawa in 1960, Rob grew up in Toronto and now lives in Mississauga (just west of Toronto), with poet Carolyn Clink, his wife of twenty-four years.

He was the first science-fiction writer to have a website, and that site now contains more than one million words of material.

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Read an Excerpt


The Navy lieutenant poked his close– cropped head into the aircraft carrier’s wardroom. “It’s going to be another two hours, gentlemen. You should really get some sleep.”

Francis Nobilio, a short white man of fifty with wavy hair mixed evenly between brown and gray, was sitting in a vinyl– upholstered metal chair. He was wearing a two– piece dark– blue business suit and a pale blue shirt. His tie was undone and hung loosely around his neck. “What’s the latest?” he said.

“As expected, sir, a Russian sub will beat us to the location. And a Brazilian cruise ship has changed course to have a look– see.”

“A cruise ship!” said Frank, throwing his arms up in exasperation. He turned to Clete, who was leaning back in a similar chair, giant tennis– shoed feet up on the table in front of him.

Clete lifted his narrow shoulders and grinned broadly. “Sounds like a big ol’ party, don’t it?” he said, his voice rich with that famous Tennessee accent— Dana Carvey did a devastating Cletus Calhoun.

“Can’t we cordon off the area?” said Frank to the Navy man.

The lieutenant shrugged. “It’s in the middle of the Atlantic, sir— international waters. The cruise ship has as much right to be there as anyone else.”

“The Love Boat meets Lost in Space,” muttered Frank. He looked up at the Navy man. “All right. Thanks.”

The lieutenant left, doing a neat step over the raised lip at the bottom of the door.

“They must be aquatic,” said Frank, looking at Clete.

“Mebbe,” said Clete. “Mebbe not. We ain’t aquatic, and we used to land our ships at sea. This very aircraft carrier picked up an Apollo command module once, didn’t it?”

“My point exactly,” said Frank. “We used to land our ships at sea, because that was easier than landing them on land, and— ”

“I thought it was because we launched out over the ocean from Canaveral, so— ”

“The Shuttle goes up from Canaveral; we bring it down on land. If you’ve got the technology, you come down on land— if that’s where you live; the Russians came down on land from day one.”

Clete was shaking his head. “I think you’re missing the obvious, Frankie. What was it that boy said a moment ago? ’International waters.’ I think they’ve been watching long enough to figger it’d be a peck o’ trouble landin’ in any particular country. Only place on Earth you can land that ain’t nobody’s turf is in the ocean.”

“Oh, come on. I doubt they’ve been able to decipher our radio or TV, and— ”

“Don’t need to do none o’ that,” said Clete. He was forty years old, pale, thin, gangly, jug– eared, and redheaded— not quite Ichabod Crane, but close. “You can deduce it from first principles. Earth’s got seven continents; that implies regional evolution, and that implies territorial conflict once the technology reaches a level that lets you travel freely between the continents.”

Frank blew out air, conceding the point. He looked at his watch for the third time in the last few minutes. “Damn, I wish we could get there faster. This is— ”

“Hang on a minute, Frankie,” said Clete. He used one of his long arms to aim the remote at the seventeen– inch color TV mounted on the wall, turning off the mute. The aircraft carrier was picking up CNN’s satellite feed.

“. . . more now on that story,” said white– haired Lou Waters. “Civilian and military observers worldwide were stunned late yesterday when what was at first taken to be a giant meteor skimmed through Earth’s atmosphere over Brazil.” Waters’s face was replaced with grainy amateur video of something streaking through a cloudless blue sky.

“But the object flew right around the Earth well inside our atmosphere, and soon almost every public and private telescope and radar dish on the planet was trained on it. Even the U.S. government has now conceded that the object is, in all likelihood, a spacecraft— and not one of ours. Karen Hunt has more. Karen?”

The picture changed to show a pretty African– American woman, standing outside the Griffith Park Observatory. “Lou, for decades human beings have wondered if we are alone in the universe. Well, now we know. Although the U.S. and Russian military aircraft that flew over the splashdown site earlier today failed to make public the videos they shot, a Moroccan Airlines 747 en route to Brasilia passed directly over the area about three hours ago. That plane has now safely landed, and we’ve obtained this exclusive footage, taken by passenger Juan Rubenstein with his home– video equipment.”

The image was coarse, but it clearly showed a large object shaped like a shield or a broad arrowhead floating atop gray water. The object seemed capable of changing colors— one moment it was red; the next, orange; then yellow. It cycled through the hues of the rainbow, over and over again, but with a considerable period of pure black between being violet and red.

Cut to a dour, middle– aged man with an unkempt beard. The title “Arnold Hammermill, Ph.D., Scripps Institute,” appeared beneath him. “It’s difficult to gauge the size of the spaceship,” said Hammermill, “given we don’t know the precise altitude of the plane or the zoom setting used at the time the video was taken, but judging by the height of the waves, and taking into account today’s maritime forecast for that part of the Atlantic, I’d say the ship is between ten and fifteen meters long.”

A graphic appeared, showing the vessel to be about half the size of a Space Shuttle orbiter. The reporter’s voice, over this: “The United States aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk is on its way now to the splashdown site. Earlier today, the president’s science advisor, Francis Nobilio” (black– and– white still of Frank, a few years out of date, showing his hair as mostly brown) “and astronomer Cletus Calhoun, best known as the host of PBS’s popular Great Balls of Fire! Astronomy series” (silent clip of Clete at the rim of Arizona’s Barringer crater) “were fl own by military jet to the Kitty Hawk, and are now on their way to rendezvous with the alien ship. The Kitty Hawk should reach its destination in just over one hundred minutes from now. Bobbie and Lou?”

Back to CNN Center in Atlanta and a two– shot of Lou Waters and Bobbie Battista. “Thanks, Karen,” said Battista. “Before Dr. Calhoun left the U.S., our science correspondent Miles O’Brien managed to interview him and University of Toronto exobiology professor Packwood Smathers about what this all means. Let’s have another look at that tape.”

The image changed to show O’Brien in front of two giant wall monitors. The one on the left was labeled Toronto and showed Smathers; the one on the right was labeled Los Angeles and showed Clete.

“Dr. Smathers, Dr. Calhoun, thanks for joining us on such short notice,” said O’Brien. “Well, it looks like the incredible has happened, doesn’t it? An alien spaceship has apparently landed in the middle of the Atlantic. Dr. Smathers, what can we expect to see when this ship opens up?”

Smathers had a square head, thick white hair, and a neatly trimmed white beard. He was wearing a brown sports jacket with leather patches on the elbows— the quintessential professorial look. “Well, of course, we first have to suspect that this ship is unmanned— that it’s a probe, like the Viking landers, rather than carrying a crew, and—”

“Look at the size of the thing,” said Clete, interrupting. “Pete’s sake, Woody, ain’t no need for the thing to be that big, ’less it’s got somebody aboard. ’Sides, it looks like it’s got windows, and— ”

“Dr. Calhoun is famous for jumping to conclusions,” said Smathers sharply. O’Brien was grinning from ear to ear— he evidently hadn’t expected to get an impromptu Siskel and Ebert of science. “But, as I was about to say, if there are alien beings aboard, then I expect them to be at least vaguely familiar in body plan, and— ”

“You’re hedging now, Woody,” said Clete. “Couple years ago, I heard you give a talk arguing that the humanoid body plan would be adopted by purty near any form of intelligent life, and— ”

Smathers was growing red in the face. “Well, yes, I did say that then, but— ”

“But now that we’re actually goin’ to meet aliens,” said Clete, clearly enjoying himself, “you ain’t so sure no more.”

“Well,” said Smathers, “the human body plan might indeed represent an ideal for an intelligent lifeform. Start with the sense organs: two eyes are much better than one, since two give stereoscopic vision— but a third eye adds hardly any value over two. Two ears likewise give stereophonic hearing, and they’ll obviously be on opposite sides of the body, to give the best possible separation. You can go right down the human body from head to toe, and make a case why each part of it is ideal. When that spaceship opens up, yes, I’ll stand by my contention that we’ll probably see humanoids inside.”

The Clete on the TV set looked positively pained. The one sitting next to Frank aboard the Kitty Hawk shook his head. “Peckerwood Smathers,” he said under his breath. “That’s hooey, Woody,” said the TV Calhoun. “Ain’t nothin’ optimized about our form— y’all only get optimization when you’ve got an ultimate design goal in mind, and there wasn’t one. Evolution takes advantage of what’s handy, that’s all. You know, five hundred million years ago, durin’ the Cambrian explosion, dozens o’ different body plans appeared simultaneously in the fossil record. The one that gave rise to us— the ancestor of modern vertebrates— weren’t no better than any of the others; it was just plum lucky, is all. If a different one had survived, nothin’ on this planet would look the way it does today. No, I bet there’s some critter inside unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.”

“Clearly we have some differing points of view here,” said O’Brien. “But— ”

“Well, that’s the whole point, ain’t it?” said Clete. “For decades, guys like Woody been getting grants to think about alien life. It was all a good game till today. It wasn’t real science— you could never test a one of their propositions. But now, today, it all goes from being a theoretical science to an empirical one. Gonna be pretty embarrassing if everything they’ve been saying turns out to be wrong.”

“Now, hang on, Clete,” said Smathers. “I’m at least willing to put my cards on the table, and— ”

“Well, if you want to hear my— What? Crying out loud, hon, can’t you see I’m on TV?”

A muffled female voice, off camera; Frank recognized it as Clete’s secretary, Bonnie: “Clete, it’s the White House.”

“White House?” He looked directly into the camera and lifted his red eyebrows. The shot widened, showing more of Clete’s cluttered study. Bonnie crossed into the frame, holding a cordless phone. Clete took it from her. “Calhoun here. What— Frankie! How good to— no, no. Sure, yeah, I can do that. Sure, sure. I’ll be ready. Bye.” Clete put down the phone and looked into the camera again. “I gotta go, Miles— sorry ’bout this. They’re sending a car for me. I’m off to rendezvous with the alien ship.” He unclipped his microphone and moved out of the shot.

Cut back to O’Brien. “Well, obviously we’ve lost Dr. Calhoun. We’ll continue our conversation with Dr. Smathers. Doctor, can you— ”

Clete hit the remote, and the TV went dead.

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Interviews & Essays

I'm a news junkie, and have a TV in my office. While I was writing my novel Starplex, the Simpson trial was on all day long. As a Canadian, I knew I was looking at it with an outsider's perspective; in Canada, we have a somewhat different judicial system and we don't have megacelebrities like Simpson.

When Ace Books had bought Starplex, they'd also contracted for a sequel to it. But as I was finishing Starplex, I realized there wasn't any room for another story there. Still, that outsider's view of American justice kept tickling at the back of my mind. A title popped into my head one night -- Illegal Alien -- and the rest immediately fell into place: a courtroom drama with an extraterrestrial defendant. I asked my editor Susan Allison if I could write that instead of the Starplex sequel, and she enthusiastically agreed.

Whether you think Simpson was guilty or innocent, there's no doubt that race played a role in the trial, and members of different races saw the proceedings and outcome quite differently. Still, when all was said and done, the Simpson case really didn't matter on a large scale. There was no way to bring back the dead, after all; all that was at stake was O.J.'s personal future. But what if an alien had apparently killed a famous human? What if the fate of the entire world depended on the results of the subsequent trial? That's what Illegal Alien explores.

I've won both the United States's top science-fiction award (the Nebula) and Canada's top mystery-fiction award (the Arthur Ellis), so I'm comfortable in both those genres, and I wanted to produce a book that would appeal equally to readers of either. Also, as a longtime fan of courtroom drama (two of my favorite movies are "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Inherit the Wind"), I hate it when books spend three quarters of their length just setting up the trial; in Illegal Alien, I devote the bulk of the novel to courtroom pyrotechnics. I hope you enjoy it.
—Robert J. Sawyer

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    I may be giving this book some extra credit for its age. I enjoy

    I may be giving this book some extra credit for its age. I enjoyed the comments about the OJ trial and names of that time. Like his other books, I got to know the characters well. There were some times where the details of the trial may have dragged on a bit long but mostly I found them interesting. To me this is one of my favorite Robert J. Sawyer books. I'd say if you enjoyed his Calculating God that this would be a good book to read.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012


    Too much verbatim courtroom dialog from a typical criminal trial detracts from the overall quality of this book, which has a good premise. Written shortly after the O.J. Simpson trial, it contains many name-dropping references to the principals in that case, making the story obviously dated.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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