"Fluency," by Jennifer Foehner Wells
Eric Renderking Fisk | November 2014
I'm not exactly sure what it would be like to travel in a small capsule with a half dozen or so fellow astronauts for a couple of months to an abandoned alien space craft. But Jennifer Foehner Wells does.
I'm positive that "Fluency" is more of an autobiography and less like Science Fiction because there's an aspect of her writing that makes me think she has some firsthand experience with this type of adventure. So good is her writing, that I'm half convinced that her main character in her book, "Dr. Jane Holloway" is actually her alias and she wrote about her experience, she was recruited into a secret NASA program to explore some kind of extraterrestrial artifact abandoned in our own outer solar system and "Fluency" was her only way to tell the tale.
Somehow, Jennifer knows what it likes to be a woman in a "fish out of water" situation where she's struggling to understand if she's an actual part of the team as an expert of extinct languages or just along for the ride if the alien language is so damn alien that nobody from Earth could ever decipher the text an the artifact known only as "The Target."
There are aspects of this novel that's important to, since our author explores through Jane Holloway's thoughts of being in a complicated relationship with someone she isworking with every day... and living with at the same time. With other people who have to "deal" with your drama in a world that's about half the size of a school bus.
Then there is the other aspect of this adventure that she really brings home, the actual terror and suspense of what it would be like to be literally months or years away from help and flying up close to something from another civilization.
"Fluency" deals with the actual emotions and adrenaline rush that a space explorer would actually feel. What it would be like to be so far away from home, that help is literally impossible?
"Fluency" also deals with the greatest enemy of all that space travels will face in the decades to come; Self doubt and uncertainty.
This book captures the sense of vulnerability perfectly. The only way I could paraphrase the feelings she conveys is to imagine yourself trying to survive deep in the Arctic Ocean while living in a soap bubble.
And then... there's the entire story and how it takes off when Dr. Holloway and the crew get on board the abandoned alien ship. And then the consequences of going in that ship and their discoveries. I can't really give away any of more the plot details from this book because to do so would spoil some other aspects and would ruin the entire story. If I tell you that Dr. Holloway and her fellow space capsule crew-mates do more than actually make it to the alien artifact, and they are actually able to they're sent to do, or at least touch it and... then... that would ruin the suspense of the whole book.
Which, to me is the second most important aspect of "Fluency."
"Fluency" is more than just '"The Martian" for women' published last year. It has a perspective of what it must be like for women to explore space and why we need to encourage them without pandering to them in this patriarchal society...
... That's an important aspect of this book. Trust me.
But for me, the most important aspect of his book is what it would be like if we had to go out and send a space crew out to explore an artifact that's lost beyond Mars, NOW. I mean like, today. Not an idealized future like that in "2001: A Space Oddest" or "Star Trek: The Motion Picture," I mean today.
If we did find an alien artifact in our own solar system now, in the 2010's, would we and could we go see what that alien artifact is and who left it there?
There are aspects of this book that share the same plot of the novels by Author C. Clark. ("2001: A Space Odyssey" and the follow-up, "2010: Odyssey Two.") but what makes "Fluency" so much different is that the book is about real people with real technology that exists today. Real people with real problems are sent to "The Target" with all of their real flaws and real phobias. The book explores a problem like... what if one of the best person for the job who said she would go was secretly claustrophobic? How would an astronaut be able to maintain a level of professionalism while at the same time fear enclosed spaces?
Just like reality, people with real issues can put those aside and do what they are supposed to do, while other people simply have their issues amplified under these stress ors. And, THAT is the story.
Jennifer Foehner Wells answers that question with an addictive enthusiasm but real-world trepidation. Sure we could go, but we would undoubtedly discover that what we think is out there isn't what's actually there. What's waiting for us out there is beyond our imagination, if it's possible we should be emotionally prepared for that and what consequences come after that.
If you've read "Fluency," let me know what you thoght of it.