This story is short, but still explores some fascinating concepts.
Earth has sent an emissary to the alien society called “the Emirates” – but a human is already living there. Is it possible the grass-roots free market has bested extensive government training at its own game?
The narrator opens in the heart of an alien harvest, watching the new Earth emissary (the “Captain”) as she watches the harvesting operation.
However, we quickly jump into the narrator’s head, a cheerful, self-deprecating human who has forged a place for herself in this alien culture. Through her experienced eyes, we can plunge into this differently-colored world full of complex greeting ceremonies without losing our footing.
Baptism of Strangeness
Earth has already “lost” an emissary — sent home after a mental break-down and panic attack.
Can the Captain keep it together as she meets sentient beings that aren’t human, feels the shift of a planet that is not Earth, and hears keening music unlike anything back home?
I was promised “straight-laced”. I like “straight-laced”. But the Captain isn’t just stern, conservative, and rules-oriented…she’s also narrow-minded and shockingly uncultured for someone chosen as Earth’s representative in an alien world.
What do I mean by that?
Nomad in a Strange Land
The narrator – “Jeseeka” – is a third-culture kid. While we don’t get her full backstory, we can guess that she was born overseas to American parents, raised on a couple different continents, and is perfectly accustomed to adapting to new surroundings.
She’s not alone. My own dad grew up in a place that no longer exists — it was wrecked and altered in the Congolese civil war. When his family returned to the U.S. for furlough, well-meaning friends would say, “Isn’t it good to be home?”
“No!” he would cry internally. “This isn’t home. My home is in Africa.”
And so he has had to realize he is a stranger wherever he goes – “a white man in Africa” – a “stranger in a strange land”…He is waiting for the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.
Jeseeka does not explore this particular philosophical conclusion, but she does bring a unique skill-set to cross-cultural negotiation.
Plumbing the experiences of a third-culture kid to aid us in extra-terrestrial interactions is something I had never seen before, and it’s an exciting idea.
One Small Step for a Man
This story reminded me of the works of C.J. Cherryh. Although it is shorter (and necessarily less complex or deep) than Ms. Cherryh’s works, it held the same glimpses of aliens that are really, truly different than we are.
And – it wove the same theme that humans are able to adapt to, learn from, mimic, and integrate with other cultures. (Although those with more experience take to it more naturally.)
For readers who aren’t ready for the soul-searing torture of the Faded Sun trilogy, this story is a soft introduction to the concept of not being home in any one place…and yet being at home everywhere.
Other Things I Liked
It’s not as large a theme, but I liked how the specially trained, government-appointed Captain was totally at sea in this new world…whereas the freelancing, misfit “nobody” earned a name and respect for herself within the Emiratee community.
There’s also a subtle jab at Westerners who consider themselves “worldly-wise”, but balk at any experience that doesn’t fit into their preconceived boxes.
How can you two be friends? He’s four years older than you are!
You don’t have a TV? But then, what do you watch?
What – What do you mean you don’t have a boyfriend? And you’re not getting a four-year college degree?
Y’know, as soon as your kids hit fifteen, they won’t want to talk to you – Wait, that was your daughter who just gave you a hug? How old is she? … Fifteen…?
Or maybe I’m the only one who hears these remarks.
A Little Fix
One thing I might do differently if I were writing this story is explain why the chosen ambassador from Earth apparently hasn’t had any cross-cultural experiences. More hints at bureaucratic inefficiency (beyond Jeseeka’s own cynicism, which filters the narrative) or something like that would help explain the Captain’s total unpreparedness for this alien culture — which is different, yes, but still friendly, eager to make a good impression, and pretty open to strangers (all things considered).
She’s apparently never visited a church service from a different denomination (say, a Pentecostal or African-American denomination).
Smoothing over this element would buttress my suspension of disbelief.
Keep Your Eyes Open
Nomad of the Emirates comes out January 1, 2019. I was somewhat surprised to see it listed as a standalone in the author’s bibliography, since it would work as the set-up to more stories.
Perhaps we will see more works that take the Christian directive to be “in the world, but not of it” and explore what this means through sci-fi visuals.
DISCLAIMER: I received an Advanced Reader Copy of this book from the author. I was not required to write a review of any kind, and all opinions are my own (we all know I’m very opinionated).
Stay up to date on Ms. Dawson’s releases, and find out more about her own third-culture heritage, by visiting her website: ebdawsonwriting.com.
Nomad of the Emirates can be found on GoodReads, where you can find buy links once the story goes live!
Unless I am not a ditz, and remember to add them here, too!