An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.
A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witnesses and victims to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.
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About the Author
Cadwell Turnbull is the author of the debut novel The Lesson. He is a graduate from the North Carolina State University's Creative Writing MFA in Fiction and English MA in Linguistics. Turnbull is also a graduate of Clarion West 2016. His short fiction has appeared in The Verge, Lightspeed, Nightmare, and Asimov's Science Fiction. His Nightmare story "Loneliness Is in Your Blood" was selected for the Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018. His Lightspeed story "Jump" was selected for The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 and was featured on LeVar Burton Reads. For his work on The Lesson, Turnbull has been long-listed for the 2020 VCU Cabell's First Novelist Award and nominated for the 2020 AAMBC Sci-fi Fantasy Author of the Year.
"An excellent read. It explores the history of the Caribbean Islands in the context of European colonization, along with current events in which communities of color are confronted with overwhelming forces that deal out harsh punishments. It's a thought-provoking and interesting story, one that I'm still thinking about."-- "The Verge"
"Bring[s] to mind the urgent and vibrant writing of Octavia Butler...From beginning to end, The Lesson is thrilling, moving and thought-provoking. This may be Turnbull's debut, but it reads like the work of a seasoned writer. It's also proof that science fiction is more than entertaining--it's a vital genre that lays bare the perils of the age and the boundlessness of the human spirit.-- "Shelf Awareness"
"Turnbull was raised in the Caribbean in a family that lived there for generations. This slow but gradual addition to the field of diverse writers whose fiction is influenced by their cultural background has not only led to a more authentic depiction of places other than mainland America and the United Kingdom, it's also revitalized the genre's creaky old tropes, such as the alien invasion/first contact narrative...The Lesson is everything I adore about a debut, a bold new voice that applies a fresh coat of paint to an old idea and does so with a sense of daring, compassion, and intelligence."-- "Ian Mond, Locus"
"Remarkable...Turnbull's writing is affecting and intelligent, dropping wisdom like cherry bombs...A daring and thoughtful book...that presents racial issues and questions in a genuinely new way, which makes it a book that, I hope, will stand the test of time."-- "Katharine Coldiron, Locus"
"Turnbull's novel combines a solid, modest gravitas, a homey quotidian ambiance, a sophistication of character development, and some genuine SFnal strangeness into a unique and savory gumbo...A native of the region before taking up residence in the USA, Turnbull has the setting and citizens of St. Thomas in his bones and blood, and he conveys their reality to us gracefully, colorfully and with a minimum of hand-holding...Turnbull illustrates life on the island and the patterns of culture that contribute to the climactic miniapocalypse with sensitivity and flair...Ultimately, this deft, low-key, exacting, surprising, yet predestined story assumes the contours of the classic account of two cultures at cross-purposes, misunderstanding each other through a welter of good and bad intentions, tragedy resulting."-- "Paul Di Filippo, Locus"
"A parable of cultural conflict, conflicting moralities, colonialism, and the costs of being a decent person in the midst of desperate times...This is one of those books in which the setting becomes almost a character in itself. The Virgin Islands and their people are drawn in vibrant detail...Turnbull has been compared to Octavia Butler, and in his case I think the observation is a valid one. The Lesson isn't just a serious, important book--it's also a fun and rewarding one."-- "Analog Science Fiction and Fact"
"A thought-provoking work that blends empathy with high concepts. It's a fine place for a thoughtful career to begin."-- "Vol. 1 Brooklyn"
"[A] rich debut novel about family, love, and loyalty in turbulent times...Turnbull uses a beautifully drawn cast of black characters to convey the complexity of ordinary hardship in extraordinary times. This is an ideal story for fans of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven and other literary science fiction novels."-- "Publishers Weekly (starred review)"
"Emotional prose and distinctive characters highlight an incredible story that will touch readers' hearts and minds. A compelling tale of invasive occupation and emotional uprising, Turnbull's debut is complex and enthralling. It's a must for all libraries, and the writer, who crafts speculative stories with black characters on par with Octavia Butler, is definitely one to watch."-- "Library Journal (starred review)"
"Sometimes the aliens don't land in New York or London. In fact, the alien Ynaa ship that catalyzes the emotional landscape and drives the action of this debut novel lands in the harbor of Water Island, one of the US Virgin Islands...A persuasively--almost musically--worded meditation on colonialism and whether it's really possible to return home again."-- "Kirkus Reviews (starred review)"
"Turnbull artfully incorporates the history of slavery and colonialism on the US Virgin Islands into the story, imagining that history's legacy on a future in which it's hard to differentiate between the cruel nature of man and alien. The Lesson is an impressive first book that takes a classic science fiction archetype and makes it feel new."-- "Booklist"
"Mr. Turnbull, who has been compared to Emily St. John and Octavia Butler, is considered one of science fiction's most exciting young talents."-- "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette"
"If Frantz Fanon had written War of the Worlds, he might have produced something like Cadwell Turnbull's The Lesson...Turnbull shows with heartbreaking clarity that even when fundamentally different individuals are able to find an essential humanity in each other, the nature of colonialism destroys both the colonizer and the colonized."-- "The Rumpus"
"For all the story's thoughtfulness and literary depth, The Lesson is given a sharp edge through Turnbull's refusal to flinch from portraying the true consequences and costs of invasion, violence and resistance...In his first novel, he displays a sure hand with plot and characters, creating a complex world that is firmly anchored in, and made more compelling by, its roots in real history. The Lesson should appeal to fans of the socially aware and thoughtfully constructed science fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin and Octavia E. Butler."-- "B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog"
"The Lesson is a story that should not be missed by readers who embraced such books as Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven or even Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End...It's a tribute to Turnbull's storytelling that everything unfolds through scenes that ratchet up a slow-burn tension that climaxes in something truly gripping and shocking...The Lesson is definitely one of those books that wants to provoke a deeply individual response from each of its readers, rather than spelling out a conclusive, pedantic "lesson" for us all. Perhaps that's a good storytelling lesson more writers ought to heed."-- "SFF180"
"Narrators Janina Edwards and Ron Butler do a fantastic job setting us in the islands, and their accents draw extra attention to the colonial elements of alien invasion that mirror our own history."-- "BookPage (audio review)"
"Cadwell Turnbull paints a stunningly intricate portrait of humanity, capturing hopes and dreams, flaws and failings with remarkable depth and texture. The Lesson is a blast to read and a meaningful exploration of the bearing of colonialism and the perils of human ambition."-- "Sylvain Neuvel, author of The Test and the Themis Files trilogy"
"I came for the aliens and a war of the worlds. I stayed for the deadpan St. Thomas humor; the complicated, charming, sexy island folk; and Turnbull's delicious prose. He may not only be a new voice in sci-fi, but also a major new name in Caribbean American literature."-- "Wilton Barnhardt, New York Times bestselling author of Lookaway, Lookaway"
"Cadwell Turnbull's The Lesson brings an alien invasion to St. Thomas with a breadth that encompasses the past, present, and future. As his well-drawn characters wrestle with interspecies challenges, Turnbull imparts lessons that both embrace and transcend culture and race to drive at the heart of what it means to be human."-- "Tananarive Due, American Book Award winner, executive producer of Horror Noire"
"In The Lesson Cadwell Turnbull, by setting his story in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, makes something completely new of the old theme of humans' first contact with superior aliens. Putting these 'colonizing aliens' in a place shaped by colonialism opens new perspectives on issues of race and culture and sex and exploitation. But the true wonder of this novel is its beautifully realized portrayal of Charlotte Amalie and its deeply human and complex characters, young and old, all of them transformed by the arrival of the ambiguously motivated Ynaa. It's a story of mystery, romance, tragedy, and redemption. Like Octavia Butler and Ursula K. Le Guin before him, Turnbull uses the tools of science fiction to illuminate the human heart. The Lesson stands at the beginning of what I expect to be a long and illustrious career."-- "John Kessel, Nebula Award-winning author of The Moon and the Other and Pride and Prometheus"
"The Lesson is a welcomed addition to the new wave of Virgin Islands literature. The plot is smooth and exciting, the polemics are subtle but smart, and the characters are heartfelt."-- "Tiphanie Yanique, author of Land of Love and Drowning"
"Turnbull's bold and provocative debut pits aliens against slavers, aliens against the descendants of slaves. On the island of St. Thomas, a family collides with intergalactic meddlers, stranding two lovers with souls in distant worlds. A forbidding panoply of colonial mischief."-- "Kris Lackey, USA Today bestselling author of Nail's Crossing"
"A compelling and layered narrative that explores colonialism and our messy human flaws through a diverse and painfully real cast of characters. The Lesson is smart, full of dry wit and creeping dread--a unique and artful debut."-- "M. K. England, author of The Disasters"
"A strong debut from Cadwell Turnbull, The Lesson does what all the best science fiction does: it uses the supernatural to reveal something true about our world."-- "BookPage"
"Rather than collapse his premise into a straightforward colonial allegory, Turnbull uses the Ynaa occupation to explore what social violence means to the communities that embrace or suffer through it, and whether we as individuals have anything to say about it. Some of the early critical comparisons of The Lesson to Octavia Butler can feel just a little gauche--black authors somehow always seem to be compared only to each other--but Turnbull's fearless commitment to his novel's ambivalence more than earns it."-- "Fiction Unbound"
"Beyond its examination of violence and colonialism...there is also, and I was not expecting that, a look at toxic masculinity, paternalism, and patriarchy. It didn't escape me that there is a beautiful (and harrowing) juxtaposing between language itself and these ideas (when the Ynaa refer to "men" who are they talking about?) that leads to an explosive ending...Its multiple threads fall into place beautifully."-- "The Book Smugglers"
"A culture clash between humans and aliens is brought to life in the narration of Janina Edwards and Ron Butler...Both excel in their smooth Caribbean accents, bringing to life an intergenerational cast of characters with distinct personalities."-- "AudioFile"