Genre: Adult, sci-fi, horror, erotic romanceRead an Excerpt
Reviewed by: Aimee
Source: Amazon Kindle PurchaseRating: 4.5 out of 5 (♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ 1/2)
She hummed softly, caught herself, and stepped up to knock on the pressed-wood door. She heard something move inside. Someone, she corrected herself. "Hello?" she called, and knocked again. "Sir? My name is Sarah Fowler, and I'm from IBI—"Wow, R. Lee Smith certainly likes to write some brutally gruesome, violent stories. This is your only WARNING! I can't send you a boat or a helicopter (heh, sorry, inside joke for The Last Hour of Gann fans), so pay attention to that first sentence. If you're faint of heart, and can't take dark subject matter, I would probably steer clear of an R. Lee Smith novel. But... if it's something you're curious about or sounds like it's right up your alley, I highly recommend reading one. I've only read two so far, but they both deliver heavily on the shocking brutality and violence theme. That being said... this was another winner for me! Fantastic writing! Great dialogue! Excellent world building! Exceptional characterization.
The door yanked itself open inwards, and there he was—the alien. Seven feet, dark brown with black streaks, snapping mouth palps, twitching antennae, and dull red eyes, glaring at her. He spat out a curt series of grumbles and clicks. "Fuck off," said an electronic voice in her ear. He slammed the door.
Her first instinct was to leave. She stifled it, nerved herself, and knocked again.
"Hello? Can you please tell me if I'm speaking to Mr. John Byrnes?"
A second spurt of insectile noise, one with no translation. Then he said, "No, you're speaking to—" Here was what obviously had a name in it, cut up by clicks and grunts. "—but you couldn't chew it with your mushy human mouths so you call me John Byrnes. Happy? Now fuck off."
Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann have some similarities that I feel should be pointed out before I get into the story. In fact, if you're going to read this book I think it's crucial that you read the author's notes at the back (first!) before starting the novel. It will explain a lot of things that I think are important to know ahead of time. The idea for both stories came about at the same time. Both stories have colonists that, by sheer accident, get stranded on a planet. In The Last Hour of Gann, the humans are stranded on a planet inhabited with aliens that are Lizard people. In Cottonwood, it's the opposite. The aliens are colonists that get stranded on planet earth... and they're bugs. As the author states, "We-go-there became The Last Hour of Gann. They-come-here became Cottonwood." (Read the Author's Notes! Seriously!)
Unlike so many alien movies out there where the aliens are evil, come to take over our world and enslave the planet, R. Lee Smith has turned it around on us. In both books, the humans aren't the good guys. In The Last Hour of Gann, most of the humans display less than honorable behavior towards the alien hero as well as each other. In Cottonwood, the world is led into making "racist" and despicable choices by an organization that appears honest and charitable on the outside, but is dark and criminal at it's core. The really sad thing is... I can actually see this being more real than I'd like to admit. Most of the world has no idea they are being deceived. But as you'll read, our heroine tries, even as futile as it seems, to make a difference.
Sarah, our heroine, is another unlikely character just as Amber was in The Last Hour of Gann. She's a sweet, innocent girl who sees the world through rose-colored glasses and has a stuttering problem that makes itself prevalent when she's nervous or scared. She likes to hum and sing, as it's something that has always helped her with her stuttering. The thing I love about Sarah is she isn't perfect, but she is incredibly brave. She never gives up. She perceivers through all the bad even when things seem impossible. She's a true angel at heart and her capacity to love unconditionally is boundless. She's the example I would hope the whole of our human race would follow.
Sanford, our hero, is an alien bug stuck in the immigration camp of Cottonwood with his son T'aki. He was a soldier on their stranded spaceship and as a father, works hard to make sure his son is safe and well cared for in an environment that is wholly disheartening. His son T'aki is around three (human years?) old, cute as a bug (sorry, again) and is going to steal your heart. Literally! You've been warned.
Sarah is the caseworker assigned to him and all the other aliens in section seventeen of Cottonwood. The friendship that develops between these two, facilitated and nurtured by the presence of his son T'aki, is remarkable. It's not just the friendship between Sanford, T'aki and Sarah, but also that of Sarah and all the other aliens in her section. But it's not an easy journey for her at all, as the aliens don't trust the humans (for good reason) and the humans are conditioned not to trust the aliens. What unfolds is a very rich and inspiring story of courage, compassion, trust and finally, hope. Like The Last Hour of Gann, though, it's also layered with lots of "Ugly." But all these things are an integral part of the story and it wouldn't be the same without them.
Last, you will see some similarities in Cottonwood, to District 9, which the Author addresses in the Author's Note at the back of the novel. This is another reason I stress that you read that section first before jumping into the story. One similarity is the fact that both aliens are bugs and probably the most reasonable match for a picture, if you are looking for an image to hold in your mind while reading. One of the differences though, is Cottonwood's aliens have legs that bend backwards (opposite of our human legs) like a grasshoppers.
If I were going to recommend a starter book into the world of R. Lee Smith's writing, I would start with Cottonwood first. It's shorter than The Last Hour of Gann and I consider it a primer for the epic journey that The Last Hour of Gann presents. But I would recommend reading both books back to back. I truly loved them! In either case, you should expect a major book hangover. It's unavoidable.
P.S. - If you're interested in contacting the author, the best way to get ahold of R. Lee Smith is to head on over to the author's blog (linked above) and leave a comment.