Saturday, June 18, 2011

REVIEW: Triptych by J.M. Frey

I love science fiction books best when they do something a little outside the norm . . . when they push boundaries . . . and when they make you stop and think. While I do enjoy some mindless carnage on the big screen, it simply doesn’t work for me on the page. Mind you, what I like on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen, but I have a pretty solid production crew inside my head.

Anyway, Triptych is a book that I’m delighted to say falls comfortably outside the norm, pushes sexual/racial/gender boundaries, and leaves you quite delighted to stop and think.

Take one heterosexual human couple. Introduce an oddly gendered alien into the mix. Then watch a family emerge, only to be confronted by the worst of both societies. As a story of first contact and social justice, this reminds me of the old TV series Alien Nation. It has that same conscience . . . . that same sense of something significant taking place on a personal and intimate level, even if it is approached in a very different manner.

Given Gwen and Basil’s role within the grand scheme of first contact, I was afraid we’d be left with a lot of technical asides and scientific musings to explore the aliens. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of being cold and clinical, the approach here is warm and human. I won’t spoil any of what happens between them, but I will say I shed tears of joy and tears of sorrow for this unusual family, and that’s an accomplishment few authors can claim.

Not only is this a wonderful story, but it’s a wonderfully told story. Initially, I had my doubts as to how well it would work – not because of any failing on the part of the author, but simply because there were so many ways it could have gone wrong. Fortunately, the pop-culture references are used wisely; the aliens are neither almost-human nor completely-monstrous (but something interesting in between); the core relationship is loving and tender, presented as something natural (rather than erotic or taboo); and there’s no sign of the usual time travel clich├ęs.

More importantly, beneath all the action and the drama, there are some big questions asked within the novel – the answers to which we’re guided, but have to realise for ourselves. That’s what makes a good science fiction novel memorable, and Triptych certainly is that.


  1. Sounds interesting, although it also sounds a lot like Butler's Xenogenesis, with (to me) a less interesting setting. Or is this more of a romance, or otherwise different enough not to trigger that sense of deja vu?

  2. Thank you, Sally. I am so touched and pleased to hear that you enjoyed the book. All the best with your site - you're doing fantastic things here.