What if you were the only person on a spaceship with an alien race? You were the person groomed to speak an alien language and take part in an intercultural exchange between planets? You would want to do it in the first place? If you did, how you feel about it? Excited? Optimistic? Groundbreaking? Or would you feel scared? Alone? Unsure what made you reach that kind of decision?
Those questions I just mentioned in the prior paragraph are the questions that Avery Alcott, the protagonist of Ascending by Meg Pechenick has to deal with in this excellent first-contact story. The last first contact story I’ve read was The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Ascending has some similarities to The Sparrow in terms of linguistics and how does an individual assimilate into an alien culture. However, The Sparrow has a religious perspective (Catholicism) that Ascending does not. Both novels have done an excellent job of detailing the highs and lows of such an intercultural exchange.
The Vardeshi visited Earth and did not like what they saw from our planet. They vowed to never return. However, they came back twenty-five years later after their initial visit. This time, the Vardeshi agreed to accept an Earthling onto their ship to learn more about humankind. They chose Avery Alcott to be the sole representative from Earth for a year long mission to become a member on their ship headed into space.
Avery transitioned onto the Vardeshi spaceship well in the beginning but as the time passed, the conflicts and issues between cultures clashed. Pechenick does an excellent job with Avery showing realistic issues in this scenario. Also, she reveals Avery’s inner thoughts that go from eagerness to despair in a believable fashion.
I enjoyed reading Ascending and Avery Alcott was a compelling protagonist. However, I thought the reveal of a romance later in the novel did not set right with me. The hints were there earlier in the novel, but I did not feel convinced about the romance. It seemed out of place between those characters. That quibble should not stop readers from reading this excellent novel. I highly recommend Ascending and it continues my recent string of novels that have become my favorite reads of 2019.