One day, early this century, the aliens arrive. They have an invitation for humanity – or at least that portion of it idealistic, desperate or brave enough to contemplate a one-way journey to the stars. Peoples’ reasons for accepting the invitation are as varied as the people themselves. Stan Morgan is a young NASA scientist attached to a US Army Special Forces team. Hathaway Dene is his niece, a rebel teenager bent on finding a place where she – and her unborn daughter – can live life on their own terms. Sophie Hemingway is a research pathologist seeking a cure for her own and her family’s genetic illness. Stephen Cooper is on the run from Earth justice. Marian West is an elderly former WW II agent in search of one last adventure.
Expecting welcome, the humans find themselves alone, cut off from Earth and deprived of all terrestrial technology. They are left to discover for themselves the meaning of the strange, malleable, artificial environment in which they find themselves and to renegotiate the relationships between men and women, soldiers and civilians, nationalities and political cadres … before these things become literally matters of life and death.
Cavalcade is out of print; however, copies can be had for the hunting. Try, for instance, Abebooks
- Millennium, Orion, November 1998, hardback, ISBN 1-85798-532-X. Cover by Chris Baker. WHSmith, UK, amazon.co.uk
- Millennium, Orion, December 1999, paperback, ISBN 1-85798-564-8. Cover by Chris Baker.
- Where are we going and why? Alison Sinclair's Cavalcade | Tor.com | Jo Walton
- Cavalcade by Alison Sinclair | Concatenation | John Cowrie
- Review of Alison Sinclair's Cavalcade | Challenging Destiny | James Schellenberg
- The SF Site Featured Review: Cavalcade | Donna McMahon
- The SF Site Featured Review: Cavalcade | Rich Horton
- “Sinclair’s masterful touch with all her major characters lets her present the interplay of humans, and that of humans and alien environment, with the depth and richness of some of the very best genre writers …” (Faren Miller. Locus, March 1999.)
- “I haven’t read a more fantastical yet believable piece of literature since enjoying Alice in Wonderland.” (Esther Woodman. SFX, March 1999)
- “Before time runs out, the humans have to discover what it is the ship needs from them, and perhaps to shape an entirely novel form of human society. Recommended.” (Janet Barron. Vector, March/April 1999)
And what if the aliens asked for volunteers?
Cavalcade got its seed, as best I can tell, in August 1995 at an orientation barbeque for the incoming medical class, at which I found myself sitting on the grass surrounded by 68 strangers with whom I would be sharing the rite of passage of the next three years – an image which found form in the first pages of the novel. The seed sprouted in reaction to one too many murky, paranoid, xenophobic tales of alien abduction and malevolent experimentation. As Hathaway says, whyever would aliens want to abduct/invade/eat/rape/lay eggs in/experiment on human beings? Whyever would they want to improve our lot/reform us/show us the light? What if all they wanted was to go bumming around the universe in congenial company? What if the aliens showed up and asked for volunteers? Who would go? Why? And what would they find when they went?
It turned out, a few months after I had embarked upon writing the novel in late 1996 that others had the same idea – and in a much less benign form than simply running a fictional thought experiment. I nearly gave up then and there. And Robert J. Sawyer’s ears must have burned when I picked up his novel Frameshift, because he too featured a scientist living in the shadow of a neurodegenerative disease. I resign myself to the fact that we’re all fishing in the same ocean, but we all cook our catch to different recipes. Sophie had actually been with me since 1988 when I tried to put her in a non SF radio play. Her family culture – about which I got to say far too little – arose out of a group discussion about genetic counselling early in my first year of medicine. I got to wondering how a family might create an imaginative response to a collective affliction. As initially conceived the novel had six viewpoints, including the Captain of the special forces team and Marian West, the elderly chemist and ex-WW II spy. The Captain’s viewpoint was stillborn, since I realised I simply did not have the feel I needed for the character and his profession. Marian’s was eliminated quite late in the writing, with regret. There simply wasn’t space for her. I ended up with Sophie, Morgan, Stephen and Hathaway as viewpoints. Hathaway was at times the novel’s saving grace. Stroppy, opinionated, bristling with attitude, she was the one character who would speak to me when nobody else would.
As ever, original conception was quite different from final form. For one, the aliens were going to figure much more prominently. Some day I may write more of the story – I do want to do the party that Hath mentions in the final pages. But in this one the humans demanded centre stage and Cavalcade turned into a novel about about emigration. About giving up the place you’ve come from, or hanging onto it for dear life. About hitting the road, lighting out for the sunset, and discovering how much you leave behind and how much you’ve dragged along with you.