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Illegal Alien [Hardcover]

Robert J. Sawyer
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1997

By the winner of the 1995 Nebula Award for best novel, a superb new science-fiction thriller: Aliens have arrived on Earth … and they seem friendly.

Set in the present day, communication with the aliens – bizarre creatures with four-fold rather than two-fold symmetry from the Alpha Centauri system – is relatively straightforward. Their mother ship has been damaged and the people of Earth are asked to manufacture replacement parts, with the offer of alien technology in return. It will take a couple of years.

But the story climaxes in a tense courtroom drama with one of the aliens on a murder charge. It is a scenario that gives an entirely new slant to the broad moral issues and intense legal dilemmas beloved of Grisham readers: ET meets A TIME
TO KILL. The aliens actually have an INDEPENDENCE DAY-type agenda, but dissenters amongst them, one of whom is the alien accused of murder, are opposed to their government’s policy of sterilization of all other worlds.

… Then another starship arrives from Alpha Centauri with DIFFERENT aliens on board carrying news that eclipses all that has gone before.

The pace is remorseless, terrific, buttressed by the flow of exotic information – the aliens’ religion is especially interesting and relevant. Absorbing and exciting. Sawyer is a natural writer with a big future.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley Pub Group (Dec 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441004768
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441004768
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 14.6 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,432,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert J. Sawyer has been described as Canada's answer to Michael Crichton. Critically acclaimed in the US he is regarded as one of SF's most significant writers and his novels are regularly voted as fan's favourites. He lives in Canada.

Product Description

From the Back Cover


Though bizarre to look at, the aliens easily make themselves understood. They hail from the Alpha Centauri system and call themselves Tosoks. Their mother ship has been damaged – the people of Earth are asked to manufacture replacement parts, with the offer of alien technology in return. It will take a couple of years. A wave of hope and joy spreads around the Earth: we are not alone!

But soon one of the aliens has been charged with the murder of TV’s most famous stargazer, thought to be the aliens’ friend. A tense courtroom drama unfolds…

And as justice is about to be served, another starship arrives from Alpha Centauri with different aliens on board, carrying news that eclipses all that has gone before.


The sense of fun and adventure SF had in its so called Golden Age … a modern sensibility … the best of both worlds’”

”Canada’s answer to Michael Crichton”

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Robert Sawyer was born in Toronto, Canada. He studied Radio & Television Arts, and after graduating in 1982 he began a lucrative career in journalism. He began writing science fiction in 1988 and is now a full-time writer. Sawyer has twice won the Aurora, the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Award; and in 1993 he won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story, by the Crime Writers of Canada. He won the 1995 Nebula Award for his novel Terminal Experiment.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darwin's Dangerous Idea strikes again! 5 Jan 2006
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Daniel Dennett called natural selection Darwin's Dangerous Idea. He describes it as a 'universal acid', eroding the fabric of traditional habits. Dennett recognizes how violent those threatened by new ideas can become. Robert Sawyer has taken that thesis to a new, wonderfully conceived, level in this book. Those reviewers grizzling about this story recapitulating the O.J. Simpson trial must have skipped over the hard parts. Illegal Alien is a much deeper presentation of the workings of reactionary minds. We've all seen how vicious fanatic religious "leaders" can be when orthodoxy is challenged. Sawyer has extended that concept to a cosmic scale. And he's done a superb job of it.
While the bulk of this book is an excellent summary of a modern criminal trial, Sawyer's real success is the building of the alien personalities. Unable to lie, they are adept at evasion and equivocation when they deem it necessary. The aliens are not the uniform society usually found in speculative fiction. Instead, they turn out to be as divided as ourselves. That the division is based on the discovery of evolution of their species is classic Sawyer. He's to be congratulated on his deft handling of an alien civilization undergoing the same stress as our own in dealing with Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
Sawyer isn't just the best Canadian speculative fiction writer. He is at the top of the genre. Unlike so many of his fellows, the 'speculative' side of his writing is minimal. We may have to stretch our minds in reading him, but not because his ideas are too bizarre or his science base faulty. Sawyer's science in this book is rock solid. The exchange over evolution's producing the eye was a prime example of his research abilities. Richard Dawkins [Climbing Mount Improbable] must be proud of his 'colonial' advocate. Sawyer merges science and fiction with sublime finesse. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping courtroom drama 24 Feb 2004
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. Robert J Sawyer has a way of saying what if to the most extrordindary ideas and then making you believe that it is plausible. The book is gripping from page one and as with all the best court room dramas twists and turns and keeps you guessing right up to the end.
Read this book.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not his best but enjoyable 7 July 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
You expect a good read from Sawyer, and this won't disappoint - but not one of his best - and a bit predictable in parts.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Silly 14 Sep 2013
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
I really thought this was a silly story, drawn out and over long. How come this writer wins so many awards?
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Amazon.com: 3.7 out of 5 stars  34 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Adept genre-mixing, but not as good as it could have been 13 Dec 1997
By R. B. Bernstein - Published on Amazon.com
Robert J. Sawyer has written some of the best and most imaginative science-fiction novels of recent years, so I read ILLEGAL ALIEN almost as soon as I found out about it. Sawyer adeptly mixes genres -- in particular, the first-contact subgenre of science-fiction and the trial subgenre of murder mystery -- and his wry and sardonic comments about the O.J. Simpson case and the problems of conducting and reporting celebrity trials are some of the best things in this book. The whole, however, turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. Without giving away key plot secrets, my major complaint was that we learned almost nothing of the aliens' ideas about law or their culture's legal institutions, which I had expected to hear about in a novel in which an alien is tried for murdering a human being. Also, there is a big contradiction between the book's early assertion that the aliens do not share humans' concepts of "good" and "bad" or "right" and "wrong" and some late but vital plot developments. In sum, even second-level Robert J. Sawyer is several cuts above the normal level of most science-fiction, but ILLEGAL ALIEN was not as good as it could have been. -- Richard B. Bernstein
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clever combination of two of my favourite genres! 6 Jun 2010
By Paul Weiss - Published on Amazon.com
Editor John Campbell once challenged his writers, "Write me a story about an organism that thinks as well as a man, but not like a man". In "Illegal Alien", celebrated Canadian sci-fi author Robert J Sawyer has risen to the challenge and created the Tosoks, a technologically advanced non-humanoid alien species complete with personal foibles, taboos, culture, language and religious beliefs, even thinking patterns and behaviour that reflect both that culture and the physical constraints of their original planet.

When the disabled Tosok spaceship lands on Earth, first contact, initially tinged with fear and awe is actually surprisingly well handled and peaceful. Earth graciously welcomes the newcomers and humanity seeks to put its best foot forward recognizing the mutual advantages of peaceful co-existence and the enormous opportunities to be had by assimilating such advanced technology. Then Clete Calhoun, a popular astronomer and, to all appearances, the first human friend of Hask, one of the Tosok aliens, is found brutally murdered in a manner that clearly indicates one of the aliens as the perpetrator. When Hask is put on trial for capital murder, it's clear that the implications of the outcome are far greater than the innocence or guilt of one individual alien.

For the most part, "Illegal Alien" ignores the hard side of the sci-fi spectrum. There is some interesting discussion of orbital mechanics in multiple star systems but other than that, Sawyer is content to let such miscellaneous factors as faster-than-light interstellar propulsion or an ultra-fine monofilament that can be used as a razor sharp cutting wire creep into the story in Star Trek fashion with no explanation or attempt to explore the scientific underpinnings. Instead, "Illegal Alien" focuses on the softer issues of first contact, alien diplomacy and inter-cultural communication.

Not a deep story but an interesting one that blends soft sci-fi with intriguing courtroom drama and a very clever, warm twist ending that dovetailed beautifully with my personal hopes for what I am convinced is inevitable contact with an intelligent extraterrestrial species.

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Aliens and Murder Trials... 13 July 2001
By Jonathan Burgoine - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is likely the Sawyer book that I enjoyed the least. Now, by that, I don't mean I didn't like it. In fact, it had some of the best written aliens to come from his pen, and had great human characters that I found well characterized and plausible.
The concept is fairly simple: Aliens land on earth, they tour around, become celebrities, and then someone who had close contact with the aliens is found murdered, and prime suspect number one is one of the aliens. Hence, a trial.
The notion of putting aliens on trial was very good, and the idea was kept rather sound. The science of the alien physiology was very well crafted into the story (especially the concept of using alien DNA typing in the trial).
Then, enter OJ Simpson. No, not as a character, obviously, but as reference after reference. This book got bogged down in the OJ references, which, given when the book was written, would have been fine, but reading it now made it clunky and a little bit out-of-date. Making a contemporary reference or two is usually fair play, but the reliance on OJ metaphors was just overdone, and this book will likely suffer more from it as time goes by.
Still, in and of itself, there is a good plot here - not just for those of you interested in the legalities, but of alien cultures and physiologies - not to mention a good ol' fashioned murder mystery! The twist at the end is another Sawyer great, and as long as you can get past the OJ stuff, it's worth your while.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A science fiction courtroom drama 9 Sep 2011
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are a number of similarities between Illegal Alien, published in 1997, and Robert Sawyer's more recent Calculating God. In both novels, aliens who are apparently amiable travel to Earth. In both, crazy humans make trouble for the aliens. And human and alien characters in both discuss evolution and debate the likelihood of divine creation. Where that discussion becomes the focus of Calculating God, it is a sideshow for most of Illegal Alien, a novel that reads like a John Grisham courtroom drama with the addition of an alien defendant. Still, alien concepts of divinity do become a significant plot point in Illegal Alien, adding to the sense that Illegal Alien was a test run for (or perhaps inspired) Calculating God.

A handful of aliens known as Tosoks come to Earth seeking help for an engine problem that has stranded them in our solar system. Two key members of the team assigned to interact with the aliens are Frank Nobilio, the president's science advisor, and Cletus Calhoun, an astronomer who hosts a popular show on PBS. While parts are being fabricated to repair the alien ship, the aliens go on tour. They happen to be in California when Calhoun is found dead, his leg having been amputated and some of his organs removed during a crude dissection. A Tosok named Hask is arrested for murdering Calhoun. He's defended by a Johnnie Cochran clone named Dale Rice. The story turns into both a whodunit and a whydunit. Sawyer's answers to those questions are clever and satisfying.

I give Sawyer credit for doing his homework. His explanation of legal procedures is accurate and his consideration of defense strategies is sound. As courtroom dramas go, this one is about average, but the alien angle gives it an offbeat appeal. Through Hask and other characters, Sawyer indulges in fairly astute commentary on a variety of social issues, including the American system of criminal justice, racism and xenophobia, and the causes of crime, while feeding the reader useful information about evolution and astronomy.

Sawyer has some fun with cameo appearances: Barbara Walters interviews Hask; O.J. Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark walks through the courthouse; broadcast journalist Miles O'Brien interviews Calhoun; Steven Spielberg attends a reception for the Tosoks. His invented characters (both human and alien) aren't as fully formed as those in Calculating God; they seem like pencil sketches of real people. The novel is nonetheless worth reading for its engaging plot, one that should appeal to fans of science fiction and legal thrillers alike.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two genres collide wonderfully 13 Nov 2001
By Jeffrey J. Lyons - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
If you're reading this review, you probably like science-fiction. But do you like mystery and court room drama too? Then you will very much enjoy "Illegal Alien." Sawyer takes a science-fiction concept and mingles it with a courtroom case. This Canadian author has done his research on the US Justice system. I felt that I was reading the transcripts from any one of the thousands of US court cases that occurs every day. The book holds your interest and twists just enough at the end to satisfy your desire for a good whodunnit. Highly recomemnded for both sci-fi and mystery fans.
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