The Return by Joseph Helmreich

Andrew Leland’s abduction is captured on camera and viewed by billions of people around the world. Upon his return, he claims he remembers nothing, while Shawn, a graduate student in physics, believes otherwise. Now, both are hunted by a super secret organization.


  • Some unique ideas in the story
  • Some mentions to theories and ideas readers may find interesting
  • Writing is decent


  • Protagonist and a few other characters are prodigies or super intelligent and are not as relatable to readers
  • Parts of the story feel a bit slow as the plot develops

The Return Review

The Return by Joseph Helmreich gives readers a different perspective of humans and their role in the larger, inhabited galaxy. While the story involves elements of science fiction, namely physics, most of the story takes place on Earth.

Mentions of string theory, the Alcubierre drive, and other theories that explain our physical universe are mentioned in this story, giving readers a sense of realism and a feeling of alienness and awe when it comes to otherworldly technology. This contrast between present-day Earth and the alien technology contribute to this science fiction story.

The protagonist, Shawn, is a prodigy who is studying physics because of a previous event in which a renowned physicist, Andrew Leland, is abducted by aliens. This abduction is recorded and broadcasted worldwide, instantly propelling the scientist into global fame despite his absence.

Questions about his disappearance and the reality of aliens spark a new interest in physics and science, and the world changes in other ways as people abandon religion and flock toward science and Leland cults.

Among this backdrop, Shawn is studying physics, and he has an obsession with Leland’s life and works. When Leland mysteriously reappears, the world presses him for answers about his years-long absence.

What follows is a mystery that reveals a super secret worldwide organization focused on acquiring technology at any means, a physics student, and a scientist who is possibly keeping a secret about his time with the aliens. It’s this secret that everyone wants, and it’s this secret that has the potential to destroy humanity.

The plot of the story itself is fairly standard, and at least the first quarter of the book feels as though it’s plodding along because of the need for the story to establish a context or foundation for future development. It’s not until the reveal that the story picks up and becomes more engaging, especially as readers too wonder about what just happened with Andrew Leland.

The science fiction aspect of the story—the abduction and Leland’s time away from Earth—can feel a little absent at times. The story almost feels more fiction than science, with the exception of some mentions of physics theories. In fact, the book feels more markedly science fiction toward its conclusion, which feels a bit of a cop-out that renders Shawn and Leland’s struggles almost pointless.

The Return by Joseph Helmreich doesn’t start off very interesting, but as the story progresses, the mystery that it introduces consumes readers just as much as it consumes the people in the story. Who, or what, lies out there for Earth, and is Earth ready for what it is sure to face in the deepest reaches of space? Helmreich gives readers one possible answer to this question.

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