Charles Spark is an expert on body language, a bestselling author and a consultant (or walking lie detector) much in demand with industry and government. So when the aliens arrive, who better to join the team that will attempt to understand them?
But even though these insectoid aliens - the "Flies" - in their pyramid-ship speak both English and Russian, they seem unreadable. "We have come to your planet to remember it," they say and at first they seem indeed to be a bizarre group of intergalactic tourists.
When human beings start to interfere, things begin disappearing. The Dome of St Peter's in Rome is the first to go, followed by downtown Prague, old Mombasa, Münich, the heart of New Orleans.
In an effort to understand what has happened, Spark, and a strange group of pilgrims, embark on a bizarre journey to Mars - where the city of Münich has reappeared in a canyon. And where time, and memory, have become manifest.
Watson's ( Stalin's Teardrops ) latest novel is a quirky, thoughtful exploration of memory, history and the nature of individual identity, all couched in a playful, fast-moving story full of well-drawn characters. When the alien Flies arrive and announce their cryptic intent to ``remember'' the planet, a team assembles to try to communicate with the aliens and, if possible, learn the secret of their stardrive. Psychologist Charles Spark psychic Olivia Mendelssohn and nun Sister Kathinka study the Flies as they tour Rome, apparently committing every detail of the city to memory. But then a Fly is killed by a hostile mob and the dome of St. Peter's vanishes simultaneously--it seems that when a Fly ``remembers'' a place, the site's very existence relies on the Fly's memory. When, after other ``forgetting'' accidents, a lost part of Munich appears on Mars, the world mounts a hasty expedition to investigate as Charles and the others persevere. Watson does a superb job of holding his material together, while offering intelligent comments about the power and burden of memory and history. Although he sometimes falls back on unvarnished exposition to develop his points and although his use of surreal elements becomes heavy-handed toward the end, this is surely one of the more ambitious and rewarding science fiction novels of the year.