4 out of 4 stars
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‘So, we were mostly a band of leftover souls who had nothing to lose except each other.’ – PART I, page 63.
‘Normally, when Frank was irritated, I’d do the only sensible thing and irritate him more until he snapped or let it go. This was different. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.’ – PART I, page 6.
‘Goes to show the self-serving nature of people—that we can collectively orchestrate an excuse to act out our lesser angels.’ – PART I, page 15.
WARNING. This will be a long one, for I feel that I lack the ability to do justice to The Albatross: Contact by Connor Mackay. But I will be sure to do my utmost.
After having finished reading the book, I took my time to start the review. No good punch lines came to mind as I was too blown away by it, and I deeply craved to do justice to this epic – by my own account – novel. I wrote down so many passages that took my breath away that I could compile the entire review solely out of what I collected, but that would be considered plagiarism.
Connor Mackay himself describes The Albatross: Contact as ‘a dark, character-driven, military sci-fi’ novel. I wish to say here that I consider it to be so much more than that. It is the first book in The Albatross series and follows the stories of three main protagonists: Will, Sarah, and Arthur. Will is an ex-serviceman who seems to have picked up an alcohol problem along the way. Sarah is a high-achiever despite being the sole carer of her younger brother. Arthur, a Lumenarian, is the chief commander of the Albatross. Each carries their demons, and each deals with them so very differently. ‘Albatross’ is a spaceship. Arthur and his crew come to Earth in search of allies for his people who had been involved in a long-lasting war that they cannot seem to win. They come in peace, looking for volunteers. Arthur is totally frank during the recruitment campaign: there are no guarantees that those who will choose to respond to the Lumenarians' plea and board the Albatross will ever see Earth again. Once on the ship, intense training begins. Most Lumenarians and humans aboard the ship do not know that some members of OnSpec had managed to infiltrate the carefully vetted army of humans. This oversight does not go without some irreversible consequences. Will these events have created a permanent divide between humans and Lumenarians that have just started to get to know and accept each other? And how is it possible that some Lumenarians are working alongside those shouting ‘OnSpec’? It seems to defy logic. And who the f*** is Mason?! (Disclaimer: an actual title of a chapter in PART IV minus the censorship.)
I was anxious to start reading this book. Mostly because I am new to sci-fi, and I was unsure whether I have done the right thing by choosing it. I feared that I might find myself feeling bored from lengthy descriptions of unrealistic technology, be put off by some stereotypical green-skinned pear-shaped-headed, strange-sounding creatures, fall asleep in the midst of some drawn-out far-fetched interstellar battle. To my utter disbelief, I found none of that. The technology – or 'biotech’ – that the reader is presented with is nothing less and nothing more than an extraordinarily advanced tech that we know here on Earth. The inner workings and the functionality of it all are so well explained that even the most skeptic of minds would struggle to find flaws. Granted, I am not a scientist. But I am a fan. And the principles applied to this advanced tech were explained so well that it sounded like a feasible natural progression of what we know and can today. To my pleasant surprise, I did not encounter any green-skinned slithery beings either. The features of Lumenarians seem to be feasible, albeit curiosity-inducing. Also, contrary to my fears, the battle scenes kept me on the edge of my seat and rooting as if I were a captain watching things unfold from the safety of my commanding deck. The author did not leave any stone unturned. The amount of research into technology, physics, human physiology, and psychology that Mackay had to conduct in order to write such a compelling and complete story must have been staggering. He certainly deserves praise for his diligence that went beyond what was due.
Whilst it is indeed sci-fi, and I can see why hardcore sci-fi fans will love this book, for me, the true value lies in the human factor, which is so masterfully woven into the plot. It is not too fast, and it is not too slow. I am genuinely under the spell by Mackay's writing ability. I lost count how many times my heart was broken as well as how many times I lost myself in a battle while deeply rooting for the 'good guys.' The divide between 'us' and 'them' – humans and Lumenarians – was erased. I felt like all these extraterrestrial races were one with humans, and humans were one with Lumenarians. It is a strange, but a very tender feeling of unity. Seemingly, I cannot step out of this state of astonishment at an author’s ability to produce such emotion in any genre, let alone a sci-fi! Nor do I want to.
The novel is rich with profanities from the very beginning. They even feature in the titles of the chapters. However, whilst sometimes swearwords feel like a stretch and unnecessary, in the case of this book, they felt natural, authentic; they made both the dialogues and inner monologues feel real and raw. There are scenes of war battles which, inherently, are bloodshed, so I must advise caution. I, however, did not find them gruesome. Maybe that is because the author managed to describe them in a very matter-of-fact manner. That is not to say that these were shallow or incomplete. To the contrary. The battle scenes were incredibly detailed and intense, I felt like I was in a constant state of an adrenaline rush, and I would feel – literally – tired after it was over. Mackay seems to have struck a perfect balance between getting the readers personally involved in this action and, simultaneously, keeping them in the seat of a detached observer. There were scenes where I did, nonetheless, felt something that could probably be called a vicarious experience of loss. A peculiar feeling. And a welcome one.
The book also contains a couple of mildly erotic scenes, but these are not explicit nor, in my opinion, could they be found to be inappropriate considering the context.
From the bottom of my heart, I give The Albatross: Contact by Connor Mackay 4 out of 4 stars. I do not think that is even enough. I feel like to do justice to how much I loved this book would take to shouting about it from the rooftops. I wish to repeat myself: I do not know why the word 'epic' does not feature anywhere when introducing this book. I feel like it should. This book is art. My heart starts skipping a beat in the knowledge that this is just the beginning. I sense that this saga may just end up being the best I will have read.
The Albatross: Contact
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