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Cavalcade    by Alison Sinclair order for
by Alison Sinclair
Order:  USA  Can
Millennium, 2000 (1998)
Hardcover, Paperback
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Did you ever wonder what happened to all the wide-eyed enthusiasts who disappeared into the spaceship at the end of Close Encounters of a Third Kind? Sinclair gives her take on a possible outcome for them in Cavalcade. An alien spaceship has arrived in Earth orbit and transmitted a message asking for human volunteers to join a galactic exploration group of a mixed community of sentient species. To participate, they need to stand near a body of salt water at a specific time, at night.

Thousands of people show up ... and wake up inside the ship after a period of unconsciousness. But where are the aliens? Electronic devices fail (with lethal results in the case of a pacemaker) and there are no obvious sources of nutrition. Leaders emerge, start to organize their groups and to explore the environment. It appears to be a series of huge caverns, floored in a coarse organic matting that displays some very interesting properties. As the humans begin to understand their environment, it throws more surprises at them and people start to die.

But this is not a horror story. Like all the best science fiction, Cavalcade is more a tale of people than of science, though the science is detailed and clearly articulated. A very diverse group has taken up the aliens' offer, with a wide variety of motivations and backgrounds. They carry along all the baggage accumulated in their lives on Earth - physical, emotional, criminal and political - and play out those roles in space.

At first the ship Tevake seems to be a huge lab with the humans as guinea pigs, a kind of interstellar Montessori, but that's not the reality. The story starts slowly but draws us in to follow what happens to specific individuals. In particular there is the streetwise, pregnant teenager Hathaway; her scientist uncle Morgan who came with reservations as part of a NASA military group; the violent and vulnerable Stephen, damaged in childhood; and neuropathologist Sophie, whose family suffers a genetic disorder, fear of which has driven her life so far.

There are others, equally interesting; characterization is particularly strong in this story, as is the science that starts to evolve again from scratch. Though it begins slowly, the action speeds up to a surprising and satisfying ending. It is all about people, their best and worst, from problem solving ingenuity and compassion to intolerance, fanaticism and violence. Cavalcade is thoughtful science fiction built around an intriguing mystery, and with hope for all of us in its conclusion.

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