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Customer reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
Format: Paperback|Change

on 24 May 2012
I really enjoyed this story of reversed first contact, in which an alien spacecraft appears in orbit around Earth and sends a single message: that anyone at a particular location at a certain time will be able to travel aboard the ship. The story follows a variety of people, all of whom are complex characters: a group of NASA sponsered soldiers, a pregnant art student, a youth offender and several more. All of them are thrown together: trying to establish a society within the craft and wondering for what purpose they have been removed from Earth.

Previous reviews have commented on the lack of odd conspiracy theorists and variety within the makeup of the characters, which is a fair point; although there are unusual enough characters within this story to make it interesting. The plot is about the interactions between people who have decided to separate themselves from Earth for various reasons: from feminist separatists to those just curious about what should happen. Eventually, whilst under what appears to be a threat from the aliens themselves, this blows over into full-scale war.

I liked that the characters were complex, and just when you had formed an opinion about one, it changed as something else was revealed. It's not a book that concentrates on the science fiction technology of the craft, more on the interactions of people as a result of the craft's existance. But I like character driven plots, and suspect that if you do too, you will enjoy this.
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on 20 August 1999
It is always tough for a writer to keep writing brilliant novels, and Alison Sinclair's previous two, 'Legacies' and 'Blueheart' were both superb books: well-constructed, with believable characters and convincing denouement.
However, 'Cavalcade' is a bit of a let-down. I am actually surprised it was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke award; perhaps this was an attempt to make up for her other two books being so unfairly ignored.
It might be because I had just read Ian Macdonald's 'Chaga' and 'Kirinya', which deal with alien contact, and particularly the political, cultural and scientific conflicts within the spectrum of human responses, in a more convincing manner. It might be because it seems such a tired subject (humans wait for alien spaceship to carry them away...). However, the real reason I think is that, while Sinclair is adept at portraying non-human and future human emotions and politics, she seems less certain on more contemporary ground. The characters in this book do not resonate, and do not seem real. Sinclair is also unable to convey the vast numbers and range of humans on board the alien ship. Her political insight does not convince (the 'anarchist' grouping was especially sterotypical and poorly drawn).
And where are the nutters, the cultists and the conspiracy theorists, who would be the first ones to be attracted to an alien ship? All those taken aboard are so rational, so boring and so reasonable, even the criminals and the soldiers! This is a fault she shares with Kim Stanley Robinson (Mars Trilogy) incidentally, though he has a better reason for all his characters being intelligent, as they has been specifically chosen for this resaon. Unfortunately the characters in Cavalcade seem at times like a debating society transported into space. I know the novel creates a deliberately artificial setting in which to explore certain emotions and political dilemmas, it is just that this technique has to be performed with immense care and precision to make it work. Any lapses and it can seem false and pretentious. Maureen F. McHugh ('China Mountain Zhang') does it brilliantly, and so did Sinclair in her previous novels - this one however, has two many faults to make the performance convincing, which is a great shame.
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on 2 August 2000
It seems entirely fitting that this book was listed for the Arthur C. Clarke award: it's style is very similar to his, indeed the plot of Cavalcade owes a huge debt to Clarke's Rama series. Also reminiscent of Clarke is Sinclair's tendency to focus on the character interaction a little too much, and to ignore the science fiction. It is, after all, a science fiction novel, and will be read almost exclusively by SF fans. I would also criticise the fact that the characters all seem to be very similar: surgeons, anthropoligists, drifters, scientists and military men all speak in cultured tones with large vocabularies, making it less easy to distinguish between who's talking at any given time, and making them all seem one-dimensional. Only one of them talks & thinks in a less educated manner, but Sinclair fails to convey this convincingly, occasionally lapsing into verbose loquacity like all the other characters. The plot is slow, which wouldn't be a problem if the characterisation was better, and Sinclair has an irritiating habit of breaking up lines of dialogue in the most illogical places. Example: "I see you," said Morgan darkly, "haven't been listening." A small niggle, perhaps, but after three hundred pages of this you'll be ready to throw the book out the window in irritation! The geography of the space ship's interior is also of significant importance to the plot, but I found the book frequently referred to the details of features not previously discussed, forcing me to continually revise my mental picture of the environment. Thankfully the last quarter of the book sees the pace of events quicken, and the conclusion is a satisfactory one, leaving this reader feeling that Cavalcade is a worthwhile read, but only just.
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