Desert Isle Keeper
As a 747 pilot for United Airlines, there is little doubt that Susan Grant has been forced to confront more directly than most of us the enormous changes September 11, 2001 brought to our world. Drawing on her unique credentials and front-line perspective, Susan Grant has delivered a story of unusual depth and power that, while a terrific romance and a great adventure, resonates with a distinctly post 9-11 sensibility.
The book gets off to a rip-roaring start when a 747 co-piloted by First Officer Jordan Cady is literally swallowed and taken aboard a giant mysterious craft. As the passengers and crew attempt to comprehend these completely incomprehensible events, the pilot’s sudden heart attack puts Jordan in command. And, putting aside her own fears, taking command is exactly what the single mother of a six-year old daughter does.
With no power and no communications capabilities, Jordan and her crew are far from sure just who or what has hijacked them. Not surprisingly, they are stunned when an armed man and woman, followed by burly bodyguards, suddenly appear in the holding area outside the plane. When the two strangers attempt to board by means of an elevating platform, Jordan and her crew literally knock them aside by deploying the plane’s emergency slide. But while this temporary victory is an emotional shot in the arm, overflowing lavatories and a dwindling air and food supply force the crew to acknowledge that some kind of communication with their captors is a necessity. When the mysterious male figure reappears and, under the clear guise of peace, signals to be brought aboard, the passengers and crew overpower their visitor whose technological paraphernalia – including eyeglasses that automatically translate their differing languages – are clearly not from planet Earth. Before he can convince Jordan to free him, everyone on board is overtaken by the sudden advent of a tranquilizing gas.
When Jordan awakens, the mysterious alien man, Kao Vantaar-Moray (described as a cross between the Marlboro Man and Atilla the Hun), takes her to his father, the ship’s commander. There, the two deliver the horrifying news that Earth has been completely destroyed by a comet shower and that Jordan, her crew and her passengers have, in fact, been saved by the alien ship’s timely intervention.
This is where the book gets grim. Trying to imagine how these people must feel when they are told that everyone they loved is no longer alive reads a bit differently today than it did a year ago. Still – and I do think I need to pass this along since Grant clues the reader in very quickly – Earth is still whole. But, since Kao clearly believes that everything he has told Jordan is nothing less than the truth, the real nature of the aliens’ agenda is very much in question.
While Contact encompasses a wonderful romance between Kao and Jordan, the book is much more. Without getting too pretentious or heavy handed, Susan Grant explores the resilience of the human spirit and the bravery of ordinary people, while also delivering an empowering dose of kick-butt-we-don’t-have-to-take-it mentality. Even better, she does all that while telling a great story with some truly unexpected twists. And, since Grant herself is a pilot, you know that you’re getting as realistic a fantasy (an oxymoron, but think about it) as you can expect to find.
Just as impressively, Susan Grant hasn’t skimped on characterization. Kao is a wonderful hero, emotionally scarred, incredibly compassionate, and phenomenally sexy. Jordan, in many ways, is a new kind of heroine. She is strong, powerful, and, despite the incredible pain she feels when she believes her daughter to be dead, a woman you’d want to have around in an emergency. She is given the Herculean task of forming a new society, keeping her people working in harmony, and attempting to decipher the alien shipboard politics that could result in serious consequences for her people.
Admittedly, there is a lot going on here, but for me at any rate, it all came together perfectly. I loved the fact that Jordan and her people fought back. I loved younger-man Kao. And, most of all, I loved Jordan, a truly heroic heroine if ever there was one.
There is no question that all of us are different now and Contact reflects those changes perfectly. Frankly, if there is any justice left in this post 9-11 world, this book should be the one to take the author out of semi-cult status straight into the Brockmann leagues.