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From Other Shores: An Omnibus by Chad Oliver
Edited by Priscilla Olson
Cover Artist: Jane Dennis
Review by Gayle Surrette
NESFA Press Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781886778665
Date: 30 January 2008 List Price $26.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Publisher's Website / Show Official Info /

First contact has fascinated authors and readers of science fiction literature almost from its beginning. In From Other Shores: An Omnibus, we have three novels of first contact by Chad Oliver, whose day job was as an anthropologist: Shadows in the Sun, Unearthly Neighbors, and The Shores of Another Sea. Each story is unique in how it deals with first contact and each is solidly grounded in anthropological research into how cultures work, react, and intermingle.

The first time I came across a novel by Chad Oliver it was in a box of books at a garage sale. There were two novels and I bought both of them. The stories were simple and straightforward, but the people were so real and the workings of the world so concrete and believable that I began to keep my eye out for more by him. Sadly, many of those old paperbacks have fragile pages and only seem to show up in yard sales, so I was immensely pleased to find that NESFA Press would be collecting his works and giving them to a new generation of readers.

Each of the novels in this omnibus deals with first contact. Shadows in the Sun finds Paul Ellery doing an anthropologic study of small town in Jefferson Springs, Texas. The problem is that Jefferson Springs is just too perfect. Ellery knows something is off but he can't put his finger on it other than to say the place is too perfect. Further digging on his part shows that there's some interesting anomalies. But even he isn't prepared for the truth and the opportunities it offers or the hard choices that he must make.

In Unearthly Neighbors, man has achieved space travel and we've found a planet that seems to have life. Not only is it life, but apparently human life. A team of researchers is sent to make contact and report back. Oliver's knowledge of anthropological research techniques adds verisimilitude to the researchers efforts to learn about the natives. It also highlights the danger of assumptions.

On the other hand, The Shores of Another Sea shows what can happen when the contact runs the other way -- the aliens land on our shores. In this case, Royce Crawford who runs the Kikumbuliu Primate Research Station in Mitaboni, Kenya notices a strange streak in the sky that seems to land not that far from the station. Over the course of weeks he notices problems as some of his baboons are stolen and his cage traps sprung with no baboons in sight. Everything comes to a head, when the rains close the roads and the station is cut off from all assistance. Royce has his family and workers to protect and now he knows that there is something out there.

I was surprised how well each of the stories held up. Except for minor changes in technology and more mentioning of smoking in each of the novels than I usually read about in two years, these books are still relevant and current. People don't change that much and Oliver's anthropological approach to the subjects cause him to deal more with the areas where different cultures meet and interact. Even after all these years, no one has bettered his ability to handle culture, society, people, and the areas in which they meet, mix, and clash.

Highly recommended. You just can't go wrong with strong storytelling mixed with an understanding of how people work.

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