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Kalp is a widower, burdened with an unimaginable grief, who escaped his dying world with nothing but his own life and a half-finished toy for a child that will now never be born.

Gwen is a language expert covertly recruited for a United Nations plan to integrate a ship-full of alien refugees into life on earth. She becomes Kalp's teammate and lifeline.

Basil is the engineer who lives with, and loves them, both but has no idea how to defend his new relationship against the ire and condemnation of a violently intolerant world.

TRIPTYCH is a poignant, character-driven science-fiction story about tolerance, love, loss, and a desperate attempt to find connection in a world that no longer makes sense.


Part District 9. Part Lost in Translation. Part Stranger in a Strange Land.

TRIPTYCH was nominated for two Lambda Literary Awards and named one of Publisher's Weekly's Best Books of the Year.

286 pages, Paperback

First published April 9, 2011

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About the author

J.M. Frey

28 books147 followers
Frey is an award-winning author and lapsed academic. She spent three years as the entertainment contributor on AMI Radio's Live From Studio 5 morning show, and was an occasional talking head in documentaries and on the SPACE Channel's premier chat show InnerSPACE. She holds a BA in Dramatic Literature and an MA in Communications Culture, and has lectured at conferences and conventions all around the world. Frey is also a professional voice actor, appearing in commercial jingles and animated television shows.

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5 stars
68 (26%)
4 stars
94 (37%)
3 stars
61 (24%)
2 stars
15 (5%)
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15 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 67 reviews
Profile Image for Andy Taylor.
92 reviews
November 6, 2011
Author J.M. Frey successfully creates a complex world in Triptych, where a lot of larger events unfold around her characters, yet always makes the story feel personal and intimate. Gwen, Basil and Kalp get caught up in a plot of intrigue as various memebers of the institute are targeted and a wedge is slowly driven between the more tolerant humans and their alien guests. Frey pulls no punches in her depiction of the humanity of Gwen and Basil as they come to accept Kalp, including some very graphic and touching sex scenes, or in the depravity and savagery of humanity as several of the aliens are the targets of vicious attacks in the novel.

Personally, my favorite chapters were the ones told from Kalp's point of view. We feel Kalp's pain acutely at his loss of his homeworld and his consuming loneliness before he is accepted by Gwen and Basil. Meanwhile his attempts to understand human culture and not offend his hosts are both heartbreaking and amusing by turns. Frey has managed to create in Kalp a wholly believable and touching character that is both alien in his biology and sexuality, and yet immediately recognizable and accessible for readers. Kalp as a character will remain with readers long after they finish the book.

You can read my full review at my website Andy's Anachronisms - http://www.timetravelreviews.com/book...
Profile Image for I. Merey.
Author 3 books87 followers
March 23, 2012
I was quite torn about what rating to give this book. I tentatively settle on four stars, because the parts I liked, I really really loved.

I won't give a synopsis--many others have done that already. I will reiterate that the character of Kalp made this book for me--the parts written from his perspective (3rd person, but over his shoulder) were, in my opinion, the best parts of the book, in terms of pacing, interest and writing. The voice was so strong and clear and for those parts, I would give it six stars, if I could <3

Unfortunately, the parts not written from Kalp's view left something to be desired... I was not too attached to either Basil or Gwen (though even that could have been all right, as this was, to me, a story about falling in love with the ordinary through extraordinary circumstances.) But I got confused by too much technobabble (I was completely lost on the whole subject of Flashers and other than understanding that they are a time-travel mechanism, found myself skimming through all parts dealing with them... which towards the end especially, were quite numerous....)... and I was also disappointed by the rather cardboard snarling and snapping villain at the end (Frey says something to the effect of '{--} cocked their head like a Hollywood villain', and I found this to be a rather cheeky little sentence, as the character and situation was, I feel, not too subtly executed.

STILL, four stars it is because I think the good parts (which comprise the bulk and middle of the book) were wonderful and offered a really touching view on the meaning of family and love. [Also, because my dislike of technical detail in sci-fi is personal and perhaps not as off-putting to other readers.)

One thing I would have really liked [and would have definitely recommended, if I was the editor of this novel] is a different structure to reinforce the 'Triptych' theme AND bring me closer to Basil and Gwen too (not just Kalp): Three clear sections, each following the respective character for that section... (As it was now, the novel seemed to me like a novella about Kalp with other information coming before and after it... Some passages did follow Basil or Gwen, but to me, they were not as clear in voice...)

But anyway.

For all my beefs, there were definitely flashes of brilliance and all together, the message was uplifting. This book left me feeling good. I recommend it to someone looking for something sci fi but a little different and look forward to more Frey in the future ^_^

Profile Image for Alanna King.
286 reviews21 followers
March 3, 2013
Triptych's exploration of heteronormativity touched me in places that I didn't even know existed. The characters and their relationships make the sci fi problems Frey creates, very real and very relevant to the human reader. It is a very brave first novel, and I found it surprisingly accessible for something that I consider outside of my genre. I will definitely pick up J.M. Frey's next novel.
Profile Image for Leah Petersen.
Author 8 books65 followers
April 2, 2011
I'm not sure what I expected when I came to this book, but it surprised me at every turn, which is amazing for a book that starts with the end first.

From the luscious prose of literary fiction in what could easily have been stock sci-fi, the skillful use of cliches and pop-culture references for a geek-dream-come-true, the heart-wrenchingly true characters and complex relationships, to the use of time travel to NOT pull all the cinema-stunts you expect when you hear "time-travel," the book was a sheer joy to read.

As a testament to the skill of JM Frey as an author, the alien character was just as easy to identify with as any other. Sure, I've been the young mother primed on hormones and no sleep willing to tear out eyes with my bare hands to protect my child, so of course I felt Evie's plight keenly. But I've also been the lost, grieving, out-of-place, off-kilter outsider who just desperately wants to make it to the next minute without causing my whole world to fall apart. Again. (Granted, it was probably a bit teenage-melodrama-induced on my part, but still.)So I was right there with Kalp, even as he described physical traits and reactions that made it obvious we weren't even the same species.

And we haven't even mentioned Gwen and Basil yet.

On top of the beauty of the story, the author plays with typical novel structure and writing in ways that are fascinating to watch without being intrusive or distracting.

Truly a fabulous book. One of the best sci-fi I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
Profile Image for Karen Dales.
Author 11 books182 followers
May 15, 2011
What a wonderful debut novel by J.M. Frey. For a science fiction novel it really deals with new issues that I haven't found often in the genre. They way J.M. weaves her story is sometimes confusing but it all makes wonderful sense in the end.
Profile Image for Marjorie.
37 reviews
January 29, 2012
I could go on and on about the excruciatingly over-wrought grief scenes or the completely unfunny and beating a dead Delorian references to Back to the Future or the truly appalling way that the final section first narrates actions and then has the characters explain those actions (For god's sake, we can infer) or the mind-numbing repetition of "innit" or the mechanical prose...but I won't.

This book has indeed been heralded by a few sites--Publisher's Weekly among them, as noted by another reviewer--as a best science fiction title in part for its "fascinating" treatment of gender and sexuality. I offer this tidbit as counterargument: "It seemed that males no matter the species across the universe did not know what to do with an upset female".

Read Left Hand of Darkness and Lilith's Brood instead. Someone clearly owes Le Guin and Butler apologies.

Someone owes me an apology.
Profile Image for Deborah Ross.
Author 87 books84 followers
February 15, 2012
I would never have discovered Triptych, by J.M. Frey, had I not first met the editor, Gabrielle Harbowy. We were talking about stories that challenge conventional notions not only of sexuality but of family, and she mentioned this debut novel by Canadian J.M. Frey. The cover reveals nothing of the story within -- part queer love story, part alien first encounter story, part time travel adventure, part mystery, part exploration of polyamory, all laced with skillfully woven dramatic tension and a sure understanding of the needs of the human heart.
Profile Image for Sally.
Author 126 books310 followers
June 18, 2011
I love science fiction books best when they do something a little outside the norm . . . when they push boundaries . . . and when they make you stop and think. While I do enjoy some mindless carnage on the big screen, it simply doesn’t work for me on the page. Mind you, what I like on the page doesn’t necessarily translate well to the screen, but I have a pretty solid production crew inside my head.

Anyway, Triptych is a book that I’m delighted to say falls comfortably outside the norm, pushes sexual/racial/gender boundaries, and leaves you quite delighted to stop and think.

Take one heterosexual human couple. Introduce an oddly gendered alien into the mix. Then watch a family emerge, only to be confronted by the worst of both societies. As a story of first contact and social justice, this reminds me of the old TV series Alien Nation. It has that same conscience . . . . that same sense of something significant taking place on a personal and intimate level, even if it is approached in a very different manner.

Given Gwen and Basil’s role within the grand scheme of first contact, I was afraid we’d be left with a lot of technical asides and scientific musings to explore the aliens. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Instead of being cold and clinical, the approach here is warm and human. I won’t spoil any of what happens between them, but I will say I shed tears of joy and tears of sorrow for this unusual family, and that’s an accomplishment few authors can claim.

Not only is this a wonderful story, but it’s a wonderfully told story. Initially, I had my doubts as to how well it would work – not because of any failing on the part of the author, but simply because there were so many ways it could have gone wrong. Fortunately, the pop-culture references are used wisely; the aliens are neither almost-human nor completely-monstrous (but something interesting in between); the core relationship is loving and tender, presented as something natural (rather than erotic or taboo); and there’s no sign of the usual time travel clichés.

More importantly, beneath all the action and the drama, there are some big questions asked within the novel – the answers to which we’re guided, but have to realise for ourselves. That’s what makes a good science fiction novel memorable, and Triptych certainly is that.
Profile Image for Kadin Seton.
Author 2 books51 followers
September 15, 2011
Wonderfully written science fiction novel about tolerance, acceptance, bigotry, betrayal and most of all, love. I greatly enjoyed the author’s departure from typical science fiction. At times heartbreaking, this book clearly demonstrates the best and worst of human nature. I was particularly moved by the displaced alien, Kalp, who desperately struggles to find his place in our society. For me, the story came to life during the descriptions of Kalp’s troubles, pain and triumphs.
I highly recommend this book to those who take pleasure in science fiction, yet are also looking for something that stretches the genre…
177 reviews65 followers
December 6, 2011
This doesn't happen often, but I'm very conflicted as to how I feel about this book.

On one hand, there's the time travel plot, the business with Gwen's mother and the farm at the start, and the elite commando action stuff near the end — all of which failed to enthuse me. The prose during these sections was less than polished, to my mind. For these alone I would give the book 3 stars.

But then there's Kalp. Roughly half the novel (from 27% in, to 76% in, going by my Kindle's progress bar) was from the perspective of this marvellous alien (NB: I'm racking my brain, and I don't think the name of his species is ever mentioned). Kalp is such an amazing character, one for whom I came to feel very fondly. The relationship he builds with Basil and Gwen is touching and surprising: you don't often read about queer, polyamorous, interspecies love in fiction.

I loved every moment of this middle section of the book — that is, up until things started to go bad for the characters. I was genuinely saddened by the events that transpired; I almost felt betrayed (whether by the character responsible, or by the author herself). After that (IE: from 77% onwards) I was a bit disappointed, feeling that the book was just going through the motions of tying up the time travel plot. The story just felt like it had been robbed of its most interesting element.

I think Kalp's story would work far better as a standalone novella, with no time travel at all, and with the happy ending that he deserves. Such a story would earn 5 stars from me. But, sadly (for me — I know, how selfish of me), that's not the story the author intended to tell. I'll have to just amend my memory with a happy ending for Kalp, Basil and Gwen when I think back to this book.

Thus, my conflicted response. Basically, I feel this is, in one half, a 3 star story about time travel with unpolished prose, and in the other half, a 5 star story of a refugee alien (with much better prose in that section, too). Unfortunately the two stories are linked by means of a tragic end for a character I loved. Anyway, to this book I dole out 4 shiny stars, mainly because I can't see myself ever forgetting Kalp.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ryan.
Author 1 book39 followers
March 20, 2013
Aliens in science fiction are a tricky business; they're often little more than metaphors for specific aspects of human society, like the Klingons in Star Trek, or they're a faceless menace with no goal other than destruction and domination, like Wells' Martians or Card's insect horde. Rarely are extraterrestrials given a full, rounded culture and a motivation equal to that of the human characters.

With Triptych, JM Frey has created a work that fully acknowledges the culture of science fiction that came before it, but steps outside of that tradition to create a species of alien refugees with a unique culture and physiology, and a protagonist who represents that culture, but is still able to stand as a fully-formed, three dimensional figure.

Kalp, the alien protagonist in question, really is the heart and soul of the novel - we spend a lot of time with his human partners, Gwen and Basil, but Kalp is the heart and soul of the novel. I'd describe him further, but I think Kalp is the sort of character that needs to be experienced firsthand, so all I will say is that "Of all the souls I've encountered in my travels, his was the most ... human."

Science fiction is often called "the literature of ideas", and in some ways Triptych could be used as an example of that, with its representation of polyamory, and its look at how accepting the alien refugees not only changes them, but also the human society that welcomes them - but it feels like expressing those concerns were secondary to Frey, and that she just wanted to tell a heartwarming, humanistic tale of love and loss. Which is, I think, how it should be.
Profile Image for Chris Jackson.
Author 77 books177 followers
April 29, 2012
J.M. Frey got some great reviews for this novel, and after reading it I can see why. She really pulls no punches. This is not a fluffy YA SF story. I won't spoil anything for you, but man, you better be ready for some grit.

She also pulls of a very unique point of view twist that I enjoyed very much. The title says it all. The primary story tellers shift from section to section, giving fresh and different perspectives of some of the same events. This is the kind of thing I like a lot, but that is very hard for a writer to do well. J.M. does it very well.

Looking for more from this talented young lady!
Profile Image for Ruthanne Reid.
Author 16 books247 followers
May 14, 2012
This book wasn't at all what I expected. The transition from tentative love and blinders-on joy to grief and eventual catharsis is powerful, and makes its point by simply telling the story, never by preaching.

The humans in this story are so very human in all their potential goodness and fear-fired hate. Kalp is a wonderful character, worth reading the book for all by himself.

Altogether, this is a solidly good debut. Just be sure to have a lot of tissues on hand.
Profile Image for David Brooke.
62 reviews1 follower
February 13, 2012
With pictures and to see this review in the "dueling review" format go here: http://www.adventuresinpoortaste.com/...

This review fights Leviathan Wakes.

Triptych is an opera, but not a space opera, a soap opera. It’s your typical love triangle between man, woman and alien. Oh wait, that’s never been done, especially like this. From Wikipedia, a triptych is a work of art (usually a panel painting) which is divided into three sections. In the case of Frey’s Triptych the 3 are three beings made one, a love that goes three ways equally. You see in the alien’s culture a relationship between 3 is the norm and the equal to what we think of as marriage. It’s never been done between human and alien, and that at it’s core is why this book is so interesting and enjoyable.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s the not too distant future, aliens have come to our planet after their own was destroyed. Refugees from a far off land, humans have set up institutions simply to understand and break down the alien technology. The worls is very much what it is today. The book balances issues of racism and bigotry as Gwen, Basil and Kalp are targeted to be assassinated for being married. Kalp is an alien who feels lost and disconnected from human culture, and as the plot unfolds a wedge is slowly driven between the more tolerant humans and their alien guests.

Frey does the most sensible thing with these characters and allows each to have a third of book inside their heads. The book is broken down into three sections: back, middle and after. Probably the most interesting is Kalps section, as we see how difficult it can be to be an alien refugee. This book deals with advanced technology, but the real science fiction is observing the world through an aliens eyes. Much of the book focuses on the domestic life between the three characters. It makes it hard though, when Kalp needs to slowly learn human behavior. For instance, humans convey emotions through facial expressions, whereas the aliens are touch and sound sensory. At one point Kalp thinks,

“So many little nuances, inflections and expressions that he’s had to memorize, had to learn to mold his facial muscles and mouth around. Humans spoke all over the register, high voices for excitement, loud for anger, but sometimes loud was for excitement as well. They were so similar, so many inflections were so alike that it took careful parsing of the expression to even begin to understand.”

Frey consistently flips things on their head and makes them surprising and interesting, this coming from a book that starts near its end. The book actually opens in the past but after the characters have met. Later the book goes back in the stories timeline, but into the future. Time travel is a big part of this book, but it isn’t handled in a heavy handed way. Frey explains it more of a happy accident the humans discovered by using alien technology. The characters feel genuine after zapping back in time to 1970, mostly because it’s as new to them as it is the reader. After explaining to Gwen’s parents where they are from, and that they have to protect the time continuum Gwen’s mother says,

“And you’re...you can’t get back to the future?” Evvie asked, trying to clarify, to quantify, to (accept) to understand. Gwen and Basicl Snorted and giggled again...Mark narrowed his eyes, “What’s so funny?”
“The...’Back to the Future,’” Gwen began, then stopped, gasping in a breath and floating it out in a chuckle. “Never mind. Classified. Sort of.”

It also helps how grounded and real these characters come across. Of course once married and Kalp, Basil, and Gwen end up having sex, it’s an awkward and strange turn of events. Frey attempts to make an alien threesome sound totally natural, but at times I couldn’t help but think it’s a little gross.

“...before somehow Basil’s hands are on Kalp’s buttons and Kalp’s tongue is back in Gwen’s mouth and Gwen’s fingers are on Basil’s fly. There is a moment when Basil has to stop to stare at Kalp’s naked body, to investigate and touch Kalp’s genitalia. “

It gets much more graphic from there, poking, prodding and discovering. These moments are short, and really not the point though. The point is the emotionally bond between the three. It’s all very interesting to read, as if you’re a voyeur fascinated with the subject but know it’s a little wrong to keep looking. You feel a little dirty, but it only brings the readers in deeper and makes the book feel that much more real. It’s proof that Frey can write when a scene can makes the reader uncomfortable this much.
Profile Image for Phred Jackson.
16 reviews
March 18, 2012
How can a novel that includes time travel and aliens not seem like science fiction?

I liked that each chapter was written from each character’s POV, thot the mourning was dwelled on a bit much and lasted too long.

One point of confusion was that Basil’s flash detector detected flashes that were happening NOW but three weeks from when they returned from the past is when the ship actually left AND why did that person need a ship when Basil and Gwen did not...

Otherwise, highly enjoyable; I look forward to reading more.
Profile Image for Jan.
Author 9 books147 followers
September 5, 2012
Not since Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness have I read such a good exploration of sexuality in a science fiction novel. Gives "marriage" a whole new meaning. Two humans and an alien form a committed triad. Hard to put down!

There's a gap in the middle of the story, though. Weirdly, though it's written by a woman, the female protagonist is the one character I can't sympathize with. It's as though she's sketched but not drawn.

Still, I enjoyed this story, was amused, turned on, heartbroken.... I learned more about love, and I look forward to more of J.M. Frey's work.
Profile Image for Judy.
117 reviews3 followers
June 7, 2016
An interesting read. It was an adventure with a mystery to uncover and perhaps moved along too fast - some of the action was not explicit. I found you had to read between the lines sometimes. The love story was sensitive and worked well.
A personal note: Having actually been a young woman in farm country in 1983, I found the 1983 protagonists unrealistically old fashioned but then I thought they were kind of old fashioned once we got to the present, too. However, I can see the story was better for having those character types included.
Profile Image for Todd McCaffrey.
Author 104 books477 followers
March 31, 2012
Back in April 2011, I wrote:

I finished Triptych in one go last night, couldn't put it down even. It's a very impressive first novel and if Ms. Frey continues to do with science fiction what she's done in this book she might single-handedly be credited with reviving the entire genre. Bravo! Encore, encore!
Profile Image for Tanya Patrice.
673 reviews64 followers
October 29, 2011
I had a hard time getting into this book at first - something about the jerky transitions at the beginning - but once Kalp starts telling his story - I was hooked until the end; so I ended up really liking the story.
Profile Image for Sumayyah.
Author 11 books58 followers
August 25, 2011
Very, very intriguing and thought-provoking.
Profile Image for Emily.
1 review1 follower
January 14, 2012
Love it! Great plot twists, coherent and yet chunked. Couldn't put it down!
Profile Image for Dan.
Author 13 books34 followers
May 12, 2018
THIS BOOK isn’t what I thought it was going to be. For one, it’s bittersweet. It opens with a tragedy. Triptych moves through settings and time frequently but never becomes hard to follow. It also changes its point of view character fairly often and I thoroughly enjoyed reading from the POV of Kalp, an alien refugee from a destroyed world. The pace also waffles at times, moving very quickly in some parts, then slowing to one that focuses on cozy domesticity. The contrast works.

I also didn’t expect this book to be as good as it was. I am a deeply biased person and the more I read, the more I come to realize how finicky I am. But this book is good; it never felt like a chore to read and the writing style kept its action tight, its romance sweet, and its characters blessedly complex. Often (especially in science fiction), we’re given static, one-dimensional characters. Basil could have been nothing more than a cowardly, sharp-tongued nerd, Gwen could have been a ‘strong woman’ with blunted emotions, and Kalp could have easily stayed a sweet, naïve thing, lost and hurting. And they were those, sometimes. But they were also more than that and tagging along as the book peeled back the layers of it characters proved enjoyable.

Frey also goes out of her way to create an alien that is humanoid but still clearly not of our world. I appreciated this more when reading from Kalp’s POV; learning more about his physiology, culture, and perception of the world is a refreshing change from aliens that are either mostly like humans or monstrously inhuman.

Of course, not every element of the book worked for me. The main conflict in the book revolves around people targeting the thrupple for homophobic and xenophobic reasons; violence against people who don’t fall into the banality of cis-heteronormativity will always leave a bad taste in my mouth. It’s an old story and I just don’t like sad endings. I want, I need to see queer people happy at the end of it all. I need that light. More than that, this is the first time that I’ve been given a main character who is nonbinary and that character dies because of humanity’s intense hatred for things that are Other.

I knew it wasn’t coming, that it couldn’t be, but I held out so much hope that somehow the three of them would find a way back together. The ending, overall, wasn’t unsatisfactory, but I also got the sense that Kalp, in the end, didn’t matter. Yes, he was a driving force for change in both Basil and Gwen, but in the end, he is gone. Basil and Gwen move towards a future from which Kalp feels excised. The next part of their life is about finding a way to still be together without him and I understand that dwelling in loss isn’t healthy, but to go from the violent death of a partner to moving on in a matter of weeks feels abrupt.

This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Caroline Manley.
52 reviews
November 15, 2017
Triptych, I think, is a pretty good example of when you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. This is admittedly one of the ugliest cover images I've ever seen, complete with its low-res quality; as an artist, it was cringe-worthy enough that I avoided carrying it to my classes. I felt like I was gonna get "Oh, what's that that you're reading?" looks.

But I digress. This is actually, all things considered, a pretty fantastic book.

Good things first! Frey's grasp of world-building was frankly incredible; it's clear that she put the most effort into developing the alien culture and biology, because everything else sort of seemed to come second. I'm a huge sucker for good world-building, and I think Frey integrated it well here; it wasn't so dense that it seemed like she was just dumping info on you, but was clearly still well thought out and nuanced in a way that made it unique from other well-known alien species in sci-fi media. Kalp himself was also an awesome character. The other reviews I've read of this book on here seem to agree with me: Kalp is undoubtedly the most developed of the three main characters, and the most endearing. I also found myself enjoying Basil's voice a bit, because he does have a very distinct voice, which I always appreciate in writing. In addition, I commend Frey for attempting a plot that includes time travel. I've always been a fan of this sort of plot line, so I know as well as anyone how completely WRONG this sort of thing can go if it's not well thought out. As I read through it, I didn't find any immediate plotholes that were created by the inclusion of time travel, so well done.

Now, negatives. I'll admit that I never really warmed to Gwen's character. I think part of that stems from the very negative light she's depicted in at the beginning of the book: starting in medias res was a good decision, in my opinion, but also ensures that the reader is entirely unaware of Gwen's motivations or thoughts. I was presented with a dead Kalp, a distressed Basil (as this section was written from his point of view), and an entirely unmoved Gwen. I found myself disliking her immediately. Though my feelings towards her became a bit more positive throughout the novel, and her motivations did become clear by the end, she never felt justified enough in her reaction-- her prolonged hatred of Kalp, even with no clear evidence of his treachery-- for me to like her. I feel that it's also worth mentioning the villain, Aitken. In my opinion, she felt very shoehorned in: I understand that the antagonist was meant to be shadowy, unknown, therefore making the reveal more satisfying. However, considering how more than half of the book passed with precisely NO mention of ANY antagonist, nor of any central conflict, her inclusion felt very last minute. It seems to me that more hints towards her role as antagonist should have been included, because as it is, her role of "xenophobic bigot who's angry about alien-on-human sex" was literally not hinted to at all. It felt very cliche-- something with Frey seems aware of, because she literally describes Aitken as a "comic book villain," or something near to that, at one point. There were plenty of other side characters who were shown to be resistant to interspecies relationships, but I think the only time Aitken was shown to share this view was during the dance, when she left the room after Kalp joined Gwen and Basil. It was such a tiny detail, so inconsequential as I read it, that I literally only JUST remembered it as I'm writing this review. I appreciate Frey's attempt at a villainous reveal, but she should know that no reader will be satisfied by such a reveal if they had no way to anticipate it on their own.

Maybe this next part is just due to personal tastes. I felt that the treatment of Kalp at the end of the book was a bit strange: after all, this entire plot revolved around him, his coming to Earth and integration into Basil and Gwen's lives, his suspected treachery, the intolerance surrounding their relationship. Yet at the end, there is no mention of his funeral, nor is there ever a cohesive moment where Basil and Gwen discuss what had happened. In the last few pages, Basil even says something akin to "well, Kalp is dead and we miss him, and we're widows without him, but let's get human married and leave it at that." I understand that perhaps the message here was supposed to be one of acceptance and moving on from a severe loss, but something about it still felt underdeveloped. After all, almost an entire section was devoted to the death of their child, the sadness and mourning-- and yet Kalp's death barely receives a fraction of that attention.

In addition, while I enjoyed Frey's writing very much, there were a few bits of syntax she picked up that I wish she would've toned down on. I enjoyed her use of lengthened sentences to give a sense of urgency or, for example, when Kalp was being introduced to something new and felt overwhelmed by all the stimulus. I did not enjoy, however, her repeated use of putting synonyms for a word in parenthesis directly after said word. In theory, this could be a clever device used to draw attention to a character's indecision on how to describe something, or the possible double meaning of a sentence. It loses that cleverness when it's used multiple times on every page. What was even more infuriating to me was that this writing device appeared ONLY in the section written from Evvie's point of view. I don't understand why Frey ascribed to such a thing and then just... stopped. Maybe that's nitpicking, but I believe that much of Frey's strength as a writer comes from her particular style. That means that when she trips up, it seems all the more notable.

All in all, I give this book four stars mainly for Kalp and his species. Without the amount of care that was put into crafting his culture, his personality, I doubt this book would have been as enjoyable. I certainly hope to read more from Frey in the future!
Profile Image for Dearbhla.
639 reviews13 followers
May 3, 2014
When the aliens came it was nothing like the way science fiction and popular culture had predicted it. There was no invasion, instead they were refugees. Their own planet had collapsed, killing the majority, only a few escaped. Earth took them in and began to integrate them into human culture.

Of course there were plenty of differences.

And then the rumours of a conspiracy started. And the possibility that the aliens were actually invaders, invaders by stealth.

Gwen and Basil were part of the Institute’s team of specialists, responsible for trying to learn about the aliens. Their culture, their technology, their language. They even take one of the aliens into their house. Into their lives. Is it possible that Kalp is acting against them?

As far as I can remember I picked this book up because I’d seen the author quoted somewhere, something to do with gender and female authors in science fiction, and being advised to publish under J. M. rather than something more identifiably female. And the plot of the book itself seemed interesting. I’m so glad I did read it because this book is wonderful.

It starts off with the death of Kalp. That’s his body falling to the floor in the opening line, and basil reacting to it. And then suddenly we are in the past, with Gwen’s parents and Gwen as a baby. The story then moves to Kalp’s point of view as he tries to integrate himself into human society. He calls himself “he” even though they are much more gender neutral in his culture. Gender only really matters when you intend to procreate. And finally back to after Kalp’s death, the causes, the reasons for it, and the fall out from it.

It is so well written, every character voice is different and distinct. I really connected with them as they told their stories. Poor Kalp who has lost everything when his home world was destroyed and who is trying so hard to fit in, to be part of Basil and Gwen’s life. All he wants is to find a home of his own.

And Basil and Gwen, who go through so much together.

It’s just a great read. So gripping, I found it so hard to put down.

But it isn’t just an entertaining story. It is all about gender, and sex roles and dynamics. About how prejudiced some people are, and how that can have such huge impacts on other people. Kalp, as I mentioned, decides to take on the male descriptive pronoun, but his lack of understanding of what makes something culturally male or female serves to point out ridiculous we are for thinking that cooking if for women, for example. It isn’t a huge hammer in the book. Kalp decides to be known as male and never makes a big deal about it again, but it comes up in subtle ways throughout the story that his gender isn’t so important to him as it might be to a human.

It isn’t a perfect book. But I thoroughly enjoyed it, and really recommend it to anyone interested in a first-contact story of a different kind.
Profile Image for Timothy Carter.
Author 29 books58 followers
July 31, 2016
Triptych is one of the best sci-fi novels I've read in a long time. For a debut novel, J.M. Frey really knocks it out of the park! Keep an eye on this author, fans.
Triptych tells the story of an extraterrestrial first contact, and explores the aliens' integration into human society. Naturally humankind is delighted to find a race of others with whom to share the planet... ha ha, okay not really. Still, diplomacy does reign for a while. After that, well... the novel opens to the aftermath of an alien's murder.
And then there's time-travel. Don't worry - it all makes perfect sense.
Gwen and Basil are part of a team helping a ship full of alien refugees adapt to their new lives on Earth. They work together with Kalp, become good friends, and invite him into their home. Then they invite him into their bed, and things become very interesting. And political. More than a few humans think sex with aliens is unnatural, a plot-development that leads to some shocking consequences, including the afore-mentioned murder (and subsequent time-travel). The reveal of the main antagonist was fairly obvious, but that’s a minor quibble. Besides, guessing who it was made me feel really clever!
But not that clever. At the end of Chapter 1 I had a pretty good idea where the story was going to go. And I was completely wrong.
Two things really stuck out for me in this novel: the structure, and the physical characteristics of the aliens.
The novel is structured in such a way that we see two crucial events up front. The first chapter shows us the aftermath of Kalp’s murder. The second sees Gwen and Basil time-travelling to prevent a Back to the Future-level paradox (and the references to that beloved 80s trilogy-launcher are a gift from a fan to fandom). The rest of the novel moves inexorably toward these events.
Frey has created an alien species that is far more than just a humanoid with bumps and ridges on its head. Frey not only describes the differences, but shows us concrete examples of Kalp’s discomfort fitting into the human world. A lot of thought has gone into this species, and it shows.
Let me put this as simply as I can - Triptych deserves to be a bestseller. It deserves a movie adaptation, followed by a lame sequel, both of which make a lot of money, only to be followed up in ten years by a “reimagining” no one asked for that completely sucks and reminds everyone how great the book was in the first place. It deserves a TV series. And an animated series. With action figures. And its own cereal. A really sugary one. With marshmallows.
Hell, it deserves your firstborn child. Yes, yours. You know who you are.
Triptych deserves to be referenced in a comically suggestive way in a Deadpool movie.
Yeah. It’s that good.
Profile Image for Nenya.
139 reviews2 followers
January 29, 2015
This was a fast read. It deals with a lot of drama and pain, so not exactly a light read, but there were some funny parts mixed in with it as well. It's a first novel, which I think shows; the author didn't quite convince me of everything she was going for. I feel like this was Gwen's story from start to finish, but we only got POV sections from other people's perspectives--her mother, her human husband, her alien husband. I don't know if this was on purpose. I'm a big fan of polyamory and three-person marriages, but some of how that was developed here seemed less well-thought-out than it could have been. I really don't think the whole planet will ratify same-sex marriage in two or three years, aliens or no aliens, for example; combined with some of the minor sexist stuff that made it in (all men, on all planets, don't know how to react when a woman cries? Really?? That has not been my experience!) it just seemed a bit rushed and under-developed. I also think that calling out Canada and Europe as places more used to immigrants than anywhere else in the world was inaccurate; Canada as having a fuckton of space, sure, fine, but what about for example South America, South Asia, which are full of people from everywhere too?

All that said, I liked a lot of this book. I really enjoyed the part of the plot on Gwen's parents' farm early in the book. Her mom especially is great. Trying to adjust to what Gwen will become, while still loving her a lot. All the sci-fi references were great, though the Back to the Future and Doctor Who nods made me hope for a different ending than we got re: Kalp. The author may be fonder of Rodney McKay than I am, as well. Loved Kalp's nest of pillows and his attempts at deducing human social customs from the classes and guidebooks and then having to actually hold conversations with humans. His people's distress and his grief for his first triad was beautifully done. I wasn't quite as sold on how the human/alien threesome started up--wish there'd been more from Gwen's POV, or even Basil's--but the book absolutely had me believing that they all loved each other by the end. I did also love that it wasn't just a woman with two husbands; there was a distinct sexual and romantic relationship between the two guys, as well.

Probably don't read this if you don't want to hit a chapter with an assault on a pregnant woman, or if you hate shovel talks. It's good for a nicely-plotted time-travel loop plot, though, and I am always glad to see more bisexual polyamory in fiction.
Profile Image for Carol March.
Author 25 books20 followers
January 13, 2015
J.M .Frey’s science fiction novel, Triptych, is about time travel, aliens in human culture, one of the many faces of love, and the challenges of accepting new cultural norms. At heart, it is a character-driven and very moving love story of two human scientists, Gwen and Basil, and the alien engineer, Kalp.

Kalp is one of the few survivors of a destroyed planet who manage to make their way to Earth seeking asylum. A near-future earth takes in the shattered survivors and quarantines them in the Institute, where they learn earth customs from watching reruns of television programs. Kalp is assigned to work with Gwen and Basil and when they discover that he is forced to sleep in the sterile “barracks” of the Institute, they offer him the spare bedroom in their home.

On Kalp’s world, adults join in triads, one to bear children, one to work, and one to protect the others. To him, it is normal and eminently practical. One of the most endearing parts of this novel is how Kalp reacts to earth culture and to his human companions who have already formed an intimate bond. Frey brings great wisdom and humor to Kalp’s reactions to everyday human experiences.

It was easy to care about Kalp as he struggles to understand and be accepted in the alien human culture. Still mourning the loss of his former partners who were killed when his planet exploded, Kalp gradually falls in love with both Gwen and Basil, and they form the first human-alien triptych. It is a mark of the writer’s skill how all the relationships work and seem natural.

This book works on many levels. As a gripping sci-fi adventure, as a mystery, and as an exploration of gender roles and prejudice. I enjoyed the unique beginning, the alternate points of view and the relationship struggles of Gwen and her mother, which is highlighted in the time travel aspect.

For a first novel, it is very well written and intelligent. The characters are complex and well-drawn, the plot worked, and I was not overwhelmed by technical descriptions which often blunt my enjoyment of sci-fi novels. This book is different, thoughtful, and well worth a read, whether you enjoy exploring social, scientific, or the psychological aspects of sci-fi.

For those interested in LGBT relationships, this one is different, believable, and heart-breaking. I will not soon forget it.

Profile Image for Wendy.
600 reviews134 followers
May 30, 2013
The worst part about Triptych is falling in love with Kalp, just as the humans, Gwen and Basil do, all the while knowing that he dies. No, that’s not a spoiler. His murder occurs right in the first few pages of the book and I was impressed by the way Frey’s clipped and intense descriptions conveyed Gwen and Basil’s emotional turmoil.

Unfortunately, the next chapter was a bit problematic with Basil seeming to suddenly develop a British accent and affectations, too much focus on the inside jokes that result when people from the future visit the past, and far too much time spent with the use of parentheses mid-sentence to redundantly point out the actual (obvious) intent and emotion of a particular character’s thoughts. Fortunately, while annoying, I could get used to Basil’s poor British representation as time passed, and the parenthesized thoughts were confined to that one section.

The next section introduces Kalp and is the highlight of the book. The few remaining aliens of Kalp’s world who escaped its destruction have arrived on earth, welcomed by the Institute (formed by the UN or such) with integration as the goal. Kalp is teamed with Gwen and the brilliant science-type, Basil. I enjoyed reading about Kalp’s awkwardness and seeing humans and humanity through his eyes. Frey did an excellent job with this and with the creation of this alien race and their physiology and customs. This part of the book clearly defines it as a bittersweet love story.

There is some tension created in the knowledge that triptych is fated to fall apart and the knowledge that perhaps it could be saved with some convenient time travelling, but I felt the conclusion of the book fell a bit flat. As expected with alien encounter stories, fear and prejudice is a prominent theme, but I did not enjoy the dastardly plan revealed at the end in a rather clumsy series of “action” sequences and a villain who was rather two dimensional.

Overall, not a bad book and certainly very impressive for a first novel.
214 reviews8 followers
June 8, 2012
I hurriedly picked this off the library shelf, considering pretty much any new author a possible treat. I must say that I was quite surprised by what I got.

The framing devices of this story include an alien species who arrive fleeing (undeserved, of course) planetary disaster, and time travel. However, even though those are both hoary SF chestnuts, this isn't really a science fiction book: it's a romance novel. The overwhelming majority of the book is a romance between a human couple and one of the aliens (whose regular family units [aglunates] are trios rather than duos), and most of the romance boils down to either sex or pre-sexual discussions.

The writing is engaging enough, and the author structures the story in a way such that the most predictable plot elements are held in reserve. The aliens and the time travel apparatus are effectively macguffins - props on which the author can paint her thoughts and make plot points. I thought the physicality of the aliens was particularly underdeveloped- I still don't have a clear picture of what Kalp actually looks like, and I've read dozens (maybe 100? It felt like a lot) of pages describing him having sex. I suspect this underdevelopment is precisely intentional: that Frey wanted to talk about family structure and this was a means to that end. The problem here is that she got to the triad structure, and made about a three sentence advocacy for it, but then didn't take the idea much further; as Larry Niven says, anyone can predict the car, but good SF predicts the traffic jam. I didn't see much traffic jam prediction here.
The plot resolution is a bit "neat," but is serviceable. The place where it falls down the most is the resolution of the time travel apparatus.

I'd consider reading a future work by Frey, but she would benefit from doing more work on the blocking and tackling of SF storytelling- the world-building which underlies all of the best SF - and on expanding the range of ideas past the realm of new and different sexual partners.
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