Roby Johnson’s “Secret Matters” was originally published in 1990 but has been updated to include new information pertaining to the 21st century. When it first came out it won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men’s Science Fiction and became a bestseller. With its updates it is even more compelling than the original.
Kevin Anderson is finishing his college studies and preparing to leave New York to take a position as an intern to help with the rebuilding of San Francisco after a terrible earthquake wreaked havoc there. Suddenly “the visitors” arrive. They resemble humans and they alight in several different cities around the world, among them San Francisco and prepare to change the world. Kevin’s company receives a contract to build a facility in which they are to live and in doing so Kevin becomes involved in a friendship with Bel, one of the visitors. He seems very human but he has strange characteristics and appears, like the others, to be hiding something. Kevin finds himself plagued with questions about Bel and the others but before he can find the answers he is searching for, there is a great deal of political miscommunication and disaster. “The visitors” feel that some of the actions of the United States will have dire consequences on his people and the world they live in but Kevin is the only one who listens to what they have to say and only because he is smitten with Bel. Kevin finds himself on a mission to discover the secrets in order to prevent the genocide of the group as well as the destruction of millions of Americans.
Toby Johnson gives us a view of religion and the world as he feels they should be and he has a great deal to say and does so by using Kevin as a man who is torn by guilt. Kevin had never really thought of himself as gay; school had kept him so busy that he never really thought about his sexuality until he realized that his attraction for Bel was something more than just a friendship in the making. It takes a disaster for Kevin to face himself and as he does, he brings up the questions that so many of us have had during the period of discovering ourselves.
Johnson pulls us into the story by making science fiction appear as the real thing and unlike a lot of fiction, the issues that he presents are very real. “Secret Matter” is fascinating for that reason. Johnson tells us that the things we experience in life are what determine as reality and since we cannot change the past, we must learn to deal with it. What “the visitors” bring is chaos and as Kevin is able to deal with it, so should we be able to deal with in our own lives.