Author: William Alexander
Series: Ambassador #1
Gabe isn’t planning much for his summer. Until Frankie, his best friend, is sent to California until school starts. Until the Envoy, an alien life form, asks Gabe to be Earth’s ambassador to the rest of the universe. Until his family life crumbles unexpectedly. Oh, and one of the aliens is trying to assassinate him. Can Gabe save his own life, his family, and the rest of planet Earth?
This was a pretty good sci-fi, although the way it ended left me somewhat disappointed. The Envoy is an interesting lifeform with some fun abilities, and I liked that it stayed to partner with Gabe rather than just granting him the role of ambassador and running off. This makes several later encounters with aliens clearer, as the Envoy can provide some of the detail Gabe has no way of knowing. They make a good team, and it would be interesting to see their further adventures.
I also liked the science, and how the ambassadors actually meet together (quantum entanglement, multiple dimensions, and basically videoconferencing rather than hauling everyone everywhere to some base that would struggle to keep the correct environment for multitudes of alien species). I liked the assassination subplot, and how that worked out. The Outlast was intriguing, and if there are future books I hope they go deeper into who these creatures are and why they changed their minds about conquering the universe.
I didn’t entirely buy the reason why all ambassadors had to be children (or childlike). This elevates one aspect of children while ignoring others—less maturity means less wisdom, less restraint, and in some cases LESS flexibility about others (because they haven’t lived long enough to see most of their assumptions challenged yet by life). I was willing to overlook that, though, since this is a kid’s book, and therefore the main character was going to be a kid, so it was for plot reasons as much as anything. And the Envoy (and presumably the other Envoys) was making an effort to select for actual character, as opposed to just picking a random kid off the street and elevating him to stand in for the planet.
I was also ambivalent about the whole juxtaposition of Gabe’s family being illegal aliens in America (sans Gabe and his twin siblings, who were born there). I do like how the book avoids outright judgement calls, despite the repeated references to the Underground Railroad. Gabe’s parents weren’t running away from horrible oppression and the meanie American government was throwing them out—it actually seems they had a relatively good life in Mexico, and his parents just wanted to avoid the hassle and possibly the expense of going through the paperwork to immigrate properly. Gabe, as a child, wants his family to stay together (though really they ought to be staying together in Mexico at this point… they’d be waiting a few months for Mom to join them, but she’d make it back). And the way the book ends leaves it unclear how and where his family is actually going to end up (rescued and then living inside their neighbor’s house would be my guess).
I get that this isn’t going to be an argument for or against illegal immigration. I appreciate that the story tries hard to stick to being a story. I was just bothered by the comparisons with Gabe’s family to the slaves escaping on the Underground Railroad. The story never says they were prevented from immigrating, just that they didn’t bother going through the official channels. I get that the system can suck. I get that his family is basically nice. But what they’re doing is undercutting legal immigrants and native workers, and taking advantage of things the country provides without playing the same role citizens do to support them. They get the benefits, but not the duties. For example, Gabe and his siblings go to school, but if his parents don’t have documentation, then they probably aren’t paying any taxes to support those schools. So I don’t feel much sympathy for the family getting found out, despite the story taking pains to try to cultivate that sympathy.
Regardless, the vague ending is more of a reason for me to hesitate on recommending this than the immigration. The last half page brings up a lot of questions, and it’s not clear what actually happens to Gabe or his family—did it work the way he was trying to set it up, or did something go wrong? So they can’t understand each other, which means what? (And for that matter, what did happen to the previous ambassador?) So, fun science, a generally good storyline, but a frustrating finish. I rate this book Neutral.
(Just noticed this book has a sequel, so maybe that helps, but I don’t know if I care to read it.)