Title: The Lesson
Author: Cadwell Turnbull
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Blackstone Publishing
Publication date: June 18 2019
Hardcover: 275 pages
An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of super-advanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last. A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
How did I get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): audiobook
The Lesson opens with the small stories of its characters, the very mundane thoughts and feelings of a family on the brink of change. Patrice is kinda falling in love with her best friend and neighbour Derrick – an inquisitive young man who dares the very religious Patrice to read a book about the creation of myths, a book that opens a questioning door in the minds of these youths. Meanwhile, Patrice’s father Jackson is having his own trivial midlife crisis, wondering about having an affair with a younger woman, tired of home life, dreaming of freedom. His wife has similar dreams but her attraction is to another woman, a kiss stolen inside a store, still fresh in her mind.
As all of this is happening, the Ynaa arrive: a race of super-advanced aliens who look almost like us (there is something slightly… wrong… in the stillness of their expressions). The Ynaa are here ostensibly on a benign, temporary and mysterious research mission carrying generous gifts of technology and cures for multiple diseases. Five years later ,the Ynaa are still hovering above The Virgin Islands.
Such a momentous event in the life of the planet and yet…
Life kinda goes on.
Jackson had his moment of freedom and now deeply regrets it just as his wife is now living with her lover. Patrice has gone off to college in the US and is now back and pregnant. Derrick’s eager enthusiasm for knowledge and discovery has led to him work for Mera, the Ynaa ambassador who seems to have a sympathy for humans most of her brethren lack.
Life does carry on with its squabbles and foibles, but there was also inevitably, a degree of change. Divergence. Because even though the Ynaa appear benevolent and are seemingly just hovering outside people’s lives, this is also not quite the whole truth.
The Ynaa are not exactly straightforward about what they want and how. They are also not entirely truthful when it comes to how long exactly they have been here. And they are very quick to anger and react if they perceive any signs of threat against their lives. They reaction is often violent and disproportioned and always fatal. Their imperative to survive at all costs come with an undercurrent of danger, of exploitation, of intrigue. And resentment is brewing among humans.
Resistance is starting.
“The Universe is bigger than you know. You are bigger than you know.”
The thing with having a story of first contact taking place in a setting like the Virgin Islands, and not say, the usual New York or London variations, is that the story told here will have an utterly different perspective: “first contact” as well as the idea of “invasion” versus “arrival” are not new, it’s something the people here have dealt with forever in these islands. There are a couple of flashback chapters that look at this really well, adding even more layers to this narrative.
Beyond its examination of violence and colonialism – and the subtle and not so subtle ways they intertwine, there is also, and I was not expecting that, a look at toxic masculinity, paternalism and patriarchy. It didn’t escape me that there is a beautiful (and harrowing) juxtaposing between language itself and these ideas (when the Ynaa refer to “men” who are they talking about?) that lead to an explosive ending.
The last chapter of The Lesson is when all come together for me, when its multiple threads fall into place beautifully, with all the women in this story. There is a lot of hope there and an optimistic look into a future that could invite change into it but also a certain degree of earned cynicism in the way that history fucking repeats itself.
Some things never change.
Rating: 8 – Excellent