Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker

Totem Poles by Bruce Sterling and Rudy Rucker
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Paranormal, Horror, Contemporary
Length: Short Story (25 pages)
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

The saucer aliens are here. They’re healing the planet. They’ve got to be stopped.

At the Publisher’s request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

Are these aliens truly friendly, or is there a darker purpose to all of the kind things they’re doing for humanity?

Mr. Sterling and Mr. Rucker are both talented writers. They have writing styles that are simultaneously poetic and conversational. There were several times when I needed to stop, chuckle, and reread a sentence not because I didn’t understand it the first time but because I wanted the pleasure of reading it again.

I would have liked to see this story go into far more detail about why Kalinin, one of the main characters, was so certain that the aliens were cleaning up the pollution on Earth for nefarious purposes. He leapt to that conclusion without having any evidence to support it. As much as I enjoyed the rest of the plot, it didn’t make sense to me to be this paranoid about cleaning up the environment when the aliens had given the humans absolutely no reason to assume that they meant harm to anyone.

The paranormal elements of the plot weren’t something I was expecting to find at all. Ghosts and flying saucers aren’t generally included in the same storyline in this genre from what I’ve observed, but I was pleased with how the authors combined those two ideas. It ended up making perfect sense for them to coexist in this particular universe because of how much effort was put into showing all of the ways they intersected.

It was confusing to switch between the perspectives of so many different characters due to how short this story was in general. I was never able to get to know any of them well. As soon as I began to form an impression of their personalities, a different narrator would take over in the next scene and I’d have to readjust to other characters all over again.

The final scene tied up all of the loose ends of the plot nicely. While it was something I saw coming in advance, it was still interesting to see if my predictions would turn out to be correct and how the characters would react to what their futures held. I was quite satisfied with the ending when it was all said and done.

If the thought of an alien invasion fills you with a quiet sense of foreboding, Totem Poles may be right up your alley.

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