Welcome, Book Clubbers! Below are some questions to get the conversation started.
Be sure to check out Elvis’s blog!
- In sci-fi movies from the 1950s, the aliens are always hostile and so are the Earthlings—a reflection of the times and U.S. anxiety about our greatest enemies, the Russian communists. Borton reimagines the encounter in a 21st century still anxious, but also obsessed with fame and celebrity. Do you think she gets it right? Would we ply them with presents or try to detain them and send them back or shoot them? (Since the novel is set in 2007, perhaps your answer would change based on the year.)
- Elvis is fascinated by many phenomena and artifacts of 21st-century Earth culture—car washes, drive-thru restaurants, the Internet, American television. Spend a day looking at your familiar surroundings through alien eyes. What do you think would strike an alien visitor as most strange? What might appeal to Elvis?
- Analysts and teachers of fiction writing often talk about “character arcs”; that is, readers expect protagonists to change over the course of a novel. In Second Coming, the character who most clearly illustrates this change is Hank, the narrator. How would you describe the effect that his alien encounter has on Hank and the change that he undergoes?
- Borton appears to be less optimistic about the prospects for cultural change. One of the background issues in the novel, for example, is climate change; according to Elvis, many of our extraterrestrial observers expect us to destroy our own planet before anyone else gets around to it. How optimistic are you about humankind’s capacity for making significant change?
- Elvis is a manufactured being, an android, and yet he is arguably the book’s moral center, and its most interesting character. Larry tells Hank that Elvis’s origin is not a category of significance in their home galaxy. Consider our own various categories of identity classification. What is their cultural function, and which of them might seem arbitrary to a non-Earthling? Might our own experiments with artificial intelligence lead to beings as “human” as Elvis?
- Marge Smith could be seen as one in a long line of spinster detectives, dating back to Anna Katharine Green’s Amelia Butterworth and including Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Mary Roberts Rinehart’s Miss Pinkerton. What other spinster detectives can you think of? What does Marge have in common with them? How is she different?
- Several of the characters in the book defy stereotypes, especially about age and gender. Do you find these characters unrealistic?
- Several of the most likeable characters in the book are criminals, including Marge herself. What motivates these characters to commit crime? We can probably all agree that murder for personal gain is morally indefensible. But what about the other crimes? Are some worse than others, and if so, why?
- If you could change one thing about the book, what would it be and why?