One of the runaway sci-fi hits on Amazon this year has been Jennifer Foehner Wells’ space thriller Fluency and quite frankly it’s a welcome addition to the genre. Borrowing from many classic sci-fi themes, Fluency centres around the discovery of an alien spaceship seemingly marooned in a nearby asteroid belt. Linguist Dr. Jane Holloway is recruited reluctantly to join an exploration to discover the secrets of the ship, known to NASA since the 60’s as “The Target”.
Once they arrive however Holloway discovers that the ship is not entirely abandoned and the ship’s alien navigator quickly contacts her telepathically and starts to reveal the secrets of the ship and its past to her, preparing her for an experience she could never have expected.
Fluency moves at a breakneck pace in a very cinematic fashion, the narrative mostly linear with some minor flashbacks to fill in gaps in the back story. Wells does a fine job of dealing with the technical side of proceedings without resorting to complicated jargon (I know I know, some geeks love the jargon but not this one!) The human technology is believable and the alien technology while advanced, is also impressively practical.
While much of the story concerns Holloway as the protagonist, her relationship with the rest of her crew is a difficult one, with some of the crew believing she is being manipulated by the alien Ei’Brai and particularly Walsh, her commander distrusting them both. As events unfold it becomes clear that there is great danger on board and relationships become strained as the crew fight both for survival and command. As the story progresses, Holloway develops a painfully slow relationship with fellow crew member Alan Bergen who’s sometimes schoolboyish behaviour towards her provides plenty of sexual tension and his frustration towards Holloway and Ei’Brai’s developing connection also provides a few laughs at times as it seems he just can’t catch a break. Some of the other crew members tend to get lost in the narrative at times, with the pace allowing little development to their characters but where some might see this as a flaw in the writing, others may see it as a tribute to Star Trek’s classic dispensable Redshirts, allowing the main players to confidently take centre stage.
While the strong female character has become a bit of a cliché in sci-fi over the past few years, it’s worth noting that many of these female characters have been written by men. What makes Fluency so refreshing is that Holloway’s character develops in a much more believable fashion given her circumstances. Sure she has to eventually toughen up and fight, but she’s much more than that. She’s a brilliant mind faced with a life-changing event and not just her life but the entire planet’s and her decisions will have monumental consequences. Her ability to focus is paramount and though it may seem she is being manipulated at times, she quickly takes control of her relationship with Ei’Brai. As the story reaches its gripping conclusion it also lays the groundwork for an exciting continuation of this rapidly unfolding saga.
Littered with plenty of nods and winks to classic sci-fi and some clever pop culture references, Fluency is a thrilling, bumpy ride that rarely falters and firmly cements Jennifer Foehner Wells’ standing in the indie scene as an innovative and refreshing new voice in modern sci-fi.