Intelligent Design: Revelations is a wonderfully absorbing science fiction novella presenting existential questions that occupy the reader’s mind long after the book has been put down. It centers on the premise that not only are we not alone in the universe, we have intelligent-life neighbors hardly further away than our own sun, on a planet intentionally hiding from our view through the use of its own cloaking system. This planet, Terra, is not populated with aliens, but a hominid species closely related to humans and Terra and Earth share a cultural history as well. The cloaking system used to conceal it from Earth is failing, however, and it is inevitable that Terra will be discovered by Earth, whose own planetary stability and climate are threatened.
The story is told in direct, clear language which describes rich, layered details and abundant symbolism. Contrasting elements play a huge role as well, such as the Terran civilization that uses technology surpassing what is available on earth, yet which also has features of ancient human societies, such as ceremonial dances, combat with edged weapons, and use of the Latin language. The many contrasts and contradictions underscore the theme of unpredictable change, prompting us to ask if there is a universal being ultimately in charge of our fate, or is it we ourselves, or some combination?
The main human figures - the scientist Andrea Perez, her father Anthony Perez, psychologist and military officer Roberta Joanne Riesman, her deceased lover and mentor Dr. Hiaki Nakamura - quickly reveal their personal characters through their strengths and weaknesses, along with all of the unknowns they struggle to understand as all of human and planetary history are suddenly rejuggled. As with characters in Erickson’s other works, there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” here, just individuals who, if they are lucky, gain insight into themselves. The dialogue is well-crafted and meaningful and the characters fully reveal their humanity as they interact with one another and react to events that are life-changing and beyond control.
What is unique about this novella is that is it not merely the story of human and Terran characters who are forced to continually adapt to ever-changing circumstances that lead them to question nearly all of their basic assumptions, but it is also a rich philosophical tale exploring issues and questions of who or what is in control of the universe and the fates of those in it and how alone and unique in the universe we are. It also forces us to ask ourselves what exactly constitutes a superior species and civilization, how crucial are qualities such as curiosity, humility, and adaptability and finally, what it means to accept truths that are unlike anything known before. Suzanne Owen, Independent Editor