This review first appeared on scifiandscary.com
‘From Elsewhere’ is a hard book to review because I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything like it. The premise is simple and not particularly original, but has promise. A human-like alien lands on earth. It’s familiar because it has been done many times before, and done well. Movies like ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ and ‘Brother From Another Planet’ are classics because they use their alien protagonists to cast a different light on human society. Bringing an outsider’s view has enormous potential for both social commentary and comedy.
In ‘From Elsewhere’ the alien is being pursued by a different species of extraterrestrials, who are also indistinguishable from humans. It’s easy to see how a story about an alien fugitive on earth could be exciting and action packed. Imagine the drama that could unfold as his pursuers hunt for him. Imagine….
Now keep imagining, because ‘From Elsewhere’ contains none of the above. There’s no comedy, no social commentary and certainly no excitement. The absence of thrills isn’t even down to bad writing (although there is plenty of that). The writer just doesn’t bother to include any even remotely exciting events beyond the initial crash.
The plot is essentially this. Nysol (who is from the Sharill race of space pirates) is being chased by member of the Kisleem species. The Kisleem are the dominant race and the Sharill are in a kind of guerrilla rebellion against them. Nysol crash lands on Earth in a national park in the US. He meets Sean, a human who is camping there. Sean inexplicably mistakes Nysol for Kevin, an acquaintance of his. Nysol then uses an alien device to wipe Sean’s memory and take his knowledge for himself. The rest of the book is about the implications of that act and largely takes the form of people talking about it. Some of Sean’s friends and neighbours get involved, as does Poit, a Kisleem policeman who is chasing Nysol. A few other things happen, mostly to do with characters having their memories wiped or restored, but not many. Anything that does happen is discussed at length before it happens and then again after the fact. I’m not sure I’ve read a book where the ratio between things actually happening and people talking about them was weighted so heavily in favour of the talking. This might not be a problem if any of the characters were engaging or the dialogue was snappy. Sadly neither is true. Sentences in ‘From Elsewhere’ often run on unchecked, as if daring a full stop to try and put an end to them.
““I have to object to your decision, also,” said Amy. “First you said that you were our friends, but now you’re basically picking and choosing which ones of us you want to keep imprisoned here; what are you going to do next, decide that some of us need to be iced just like you do to those Sharill who you call enemies, as well?””
This absence of pace or tension infects the whole book. The characters never seem to care about the events on anything other than an intellectual level.
““Making up stories just to have other people unknowingly fill in non-player character roles in your game is a pretty messed up thing to do; you really ought to leave everybody else out of this pointless make-believe! People who’ve never met you, like Amy here, are taking what you are making up v seriously. Please don’t try to take advantage of Sean’s momentary confusion, and stop lying to my neighbors to make them mad at me.””
Even when the characters aren’t under stress their dialogue is weirdly robotic like they don’t really understand communication. If it was the alien characters who spoke like this I could understand it, but it’s all of them.
““Ok,” Randall said to them all; “let’s go into the next room and play some playstation or something instead of continuing our D&D campaign since Sean isn’t here. I say right now that I’ll defeat you all in Call of Duty!””
Despite the modern references, the book often feels like a bad pulp SF offering from the 1950s, or maybe a lost offering from Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional SF author Kilgore Trout. Taken in that way it’s kind of fascinating. I found myself almost eager to keep reading it because I had absolutely no idea where it was going. Sadly it wasn’t anywhere interesting.