Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley book review

Paul McAuley presents an intriguing alternate universe

The premise for the very British alien novel Something Coming Through presents an intriguing alternate universe. In it, strange aliens called the Jackaroo mysteriously give humanity a number of new worlds for access, exploration and use. However, these worlds – accessible via the Jackaroo’s wormhole network – have all been previously lived in by seemingly extinct civilisations known as the Elder Cultures.

Researcher Chloe and police officer Vic find themselves embroiled in separate cases of mystery, visions of the future, and cold-blooded murder. And through a quintessentially British style, with blunt descriptions of events, people and places, the reduction of the magnificent into the mundane and even a fair few Full English breakfasts, McAuley reveals the mystery at hand, adding and disposing of characters while building an implied universe that is much larger than what is immediately visible.

In a style reminiscent of many British TV crime series, the plot progresses through conversations rather than shootouts, and the examination of crime scenes instead of witnessing the crime itself. New characters are also introduced through these conversations, which provide a gradual unveiling of the world.

However, there is a certain disconnect between the premise and the execution. While the demystification of the grand narrative is effective to a degree, the everyday language and behaviour of the characters tunes the potentially epic story down too much for long spells. Also, attempts at topicality, such as mentions of the strained Britain-EU relationship and Reddit AMAs, often feel shoehorned in and disharmonious with the rest of the narrative.

As a result, the whole story feels disjointed and lacking in pace, right up to an ending that brings a promising hook into an inevitable sequel. Let’s hope these issues will be ironed out in time for that.