Review: Cottonwood by R. Lee Smith


Imagine the aliens exist and finally landed on Earth – approximately 28 years ago. However they are closer to space immigrants or refugees than to technologically advanced super-human gurus. In fact they look a bit like big biped bugs with antennae, chitin carapaces and strange spikes adorning their limbs. People fear them and are disgusted by them so the aliens are kept in special camps supervised by a private company called IBI.

Now enters Sarah Fowler, a young woman without any education to speak of, currently unemployed and looking for a job, any job at all. She is a bit naïve and very, very curious when it comes to the aliens. When she sees that IBI are recruiting she jumps at that opportunity, especially that, surprise, surprise, no previous experience or any special education are needed. Even though her older sister Kate warns her time and again that the offer sounds fishy and is too good to be true, as soon as  Sarah is accepted she packs her belongings and her faithful Labradoodle called Fagin into an old van and drives to Cottonwood to be the social worker among the aliens. Her life will never be the same.

My impressions:

Do you remember an old-ish (2009) sci-fi movie, District 9, reviewed by me not so long ago? If yes you might spot many similarities between this novel and that movie. Aliens as miserable bugs, not super-clever, super-strong, sentient creatures or nasty, aggressive invaders. An ingénue falling into hands of an evil corporation. An armament scam. An epic fight to preserve your dignity in an adverse environment. Afrikaans playing the major baddies.

I have to admit I had hard time to believe that it was pure coincidence and yet the author in her afterword claimed she’d started her novel before watching the movie. Oh well – who am I to judge? Stranger things happen in real life.

Anyway I loved District 9 and I loved Cottonwood almost as much. In fact, in my humble opinion it’s been so far the best Lee Smith’s novel I’ve read. The heroine, Sarah, was naïve but not stupid. She didn’t go around forgiving people who tried to hurt her like Amber from The Last Hour of Gann or Olivia from Olivia. If she had to do some damage she never hesitated and she was punished for her cheek accordingly. The ending was also good but these editing changes to make it a bit more different than the ending of District 9 were clearly distinguishable. It was simply weird.

What’s more? There was less erotic scenes in this one; compared to Olivia or The Last Hour of Gann it was simply tame and I suppose it is also one of the reasons why I liked it best. It was shorter too, more compact that the previous behemoths of books and once again I could only applaud that relative conciseness.

Overall if you haven’t read anything by Lee Smith I would strongly recommend this one as the first novel you try. If you like it and you find you crave such stories you can read the rest, if you don’t like it, do not even think of reading e.g. The Last Hour of Gann because it is very likely it will be a DNF.

Final verdict:

A very solid, very clever story about aliens and ingénues. I really liked it. If only it wasn’t so similar to a certain movie…



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6 Responses to Review: Cottonwood by R. Lee Smith

  1. Carole Rae says:

    Huh. I did like the movie. I never heard of this tho…

  2. heidenkind says:

    I might try this one. I haven’t seen the movie so that won’t be a problem.

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