I have to admit, first contact stories tend leave me cold. From the 60's on, they seem to have been formulaic if not cliche: either an eager and dedicated person makes solo first contact and learns wisdom as well as knowledge from the noble outside race; or, there is the seemingly now mandatory evil government person who wants to exploit the helpless alien(s), kill anyone who knows, or otherwise take over/mess up the first contact. The one notable exception to my mind was Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. From television to books, the formula seems largely holds true.
It was, therefore, with delight that I read Michael Z. Williamson's forthcoming book, Contact with Chaos. This has been my favorite book of his to read so far, for the story flows easily and with humor and delight. Not to say that there are not some very serious moments, for there are and they are handled deftly and with a skill that shows his growth as a writer.
Within the Freehold universe, nothing is simple or quite what it seems. What starts as a corporate survey team realizing that they've discovered sentient life in a new system rapidly turns into a corporate and governmental race to get there to exploit, protect, and otherwise deal with this new race. The question is, who is doing what and to whom -- including the alien species. For what happens if when you meet aliens that are not quite what they seem, and are just as suspicious of you as you are of them?
From politics to technology, from the noble savage to military members and actions, Contact with Chaos takes great delight in standing things on their heads and challenging the assumptions that underlie our thoughts on these areas. This exploration of our mores and casual assumptions is a delight, and provides a good bit of food for thought. Yet, it never ceases to entertain and avoids the pitfall of preaching.
The story also weaves in characters and events from previous works in a seamless and natural way, as the characters react to those previous events and how they have affected relationships between the different parties. It avoids cliche in so doing, and makes it a natural part of things rather than something glaringly shoe-horned in simply as a reference to past work.
Written and/or edited under the adverse conditions of deployment and some health issues on return, the book -- as stated above -- shows the author's growth as a writer. It also showcases his ability to write an entertaining book that deals with serious subjects without getting in too deep. It is well worth the read, and as for me I not only recommend it, but look forward to seeing what and how he does when not writing and editing while dealing with the stresses of deployment and illness.