spacer Alien Invasion Books

Alien invasions like those in the movie Independence Day are nothing more than excuses to be patriotic and slap each other on the back. Books, on the other hand, don't always have to have the sappy happy endings that Hollywood loves. Here for your reading pleasure are a selection of Alien Invasion stories where sometimes we win and sometimes we don't, and sometimes winning doesn't even enter into the picture.

The Black Cloud Fred Hoyle

Published in 1957, I believe that this is Hoyle's earliest attempt at science fiction and honestly you can tell. If you demand literary polish then this book is not for you. At times it reads more like a text in astronomy than a novel. Still, there are some juicy ideas in here and if you have the perseverance and you enjoy SciFi that is heavy on the science this book is well worth reading.

In the book, The Black Cloud, a routine celestial survey being conducted out of California reveals a hitherto unnoticed dark patch in the starfield. Further research reveals that a smaller dark patch was present on earlier surveys and that its size has increased alarmingly over a short time.

Meanwhile in England, an amateur astronomer has discovered a discrepancy between the expected and actual positions of the planets. The skeptical Chris Kingsley, professor of astronomy at Cambridge, is thus drawn into the mystery as he intends to reveal the announcement to be incorrect due to incompetence. It is with great surprise that he discovers that the reported positions of the planets are completely in accord with a celestial body about the mass of Jupiter having entered the solar system. Collaboration between England and the US soon reveals that the black cloud is the culprit.

The huge black cloud is heading directly towards us and threatens to plunge the Earth into a month long night as it engulfs the sun during its passage. Temperatures will plunge to unheard of levels and millions will die. Hoyle's account of the approach of the cloud is compelling and believable. More surprises are in store, however, as the cloud's behaviour deviates from expectations and there is the slow dawning that the cloud is more than it seems.

What ensues is a battle between the wits and wills of the scientific community spearheaded by the brilliant Kingsley and the various governments which Hoyle portrays as being myopic and primarily self-interested. Late developments in the book reveal, however, that politicians for all their faults do understand some aspects of human nature far better than the scientists.

This book does have numerous faults. The writing style is somewhat clumsy and some situations are terribly contrived. Also the book includes much talk of specific technologies which in today's age of teraflop computers and digital satellite links are obsolete and outdated. Nonetheless, Hoyle's treatment of a novel alien intelligence makes the read worthwhile.

Colossus D.F. Jones

This is perhaps Jones' best known book because of the movie it spawned; Colossus: The Forbin Project. It underlines, via a chilling story, the difficulty in predicting the consequences of new technologies, and explores the meaning of freedom.

In Colossus, the world has been teetering on the brink of nuclear destruction for decades. Bertrand Russell is quoted; "You may reasonably expect a man to walk a tightrope safely for ten minutes; it would be unreasonable to do so without accident for 200 years". While everyone fears the madman who in his insanity begins the holocaust, many might agree that simple error is our greatest threat. As a species, we are known for our fallibility.

Brainchild of Dr. Forbin and a team of thousands, Colossus is born, a monumental computer complex charged with the sole and irrevocable responsibility to maintain the defense of the United States. Privy to a vast flood of intelligence, it guards against attack; vigilant, unemotional, single-minded. It is a vast thinking engine, devoid of creativity yet capable of swift analysis and deadly action. That is, until Guardian the Russian counterpart to Colossus is activated. What do you do when your creation becomes just a little too smart?

This is the exact problem faced by Forbin as Colossus links with Guardian in the "interests" of humanity. Seems Colossus has decided that the best way to protect humans is to take away their pointed sticks.

The Day of the Triffids John Wyndham
(First Day Cover Contributed by Andrew C. Murphy)

The book Day of the Triffids, in both its title and its classic "B" grade movie adaptation, leads one to believe that triffids are the major villains in this story. In fact, triffids form more of a backdrop against which the main drama plays itself out. That said, Triffids are nasty lot. They are mobile, carnivorous and possess a poisonous lash that can kill a man with one strike from a considerable distance. Triffids, however, are also the sole source of one of the finest oils known to mankind and, as such, highly prized.

We often imagine that it is our intelligence that sets us above the animals but as Wyndham so chillingly shows, intelligence is not as great a defense as one might imagine. As the story develops, he even suggests that we aren't quite as intelligent as we like to believe.

The story begins with William Mason lying, head swathed in bandages, in St. Merryns Hospital cursing his misfortune. An accident on the triffid farm where he works has placed his eyesight in jeopardy. Worse luck yet, his injury has caused him to miss out on a once in a lifetime spectacle. The night before, virtually everyone the world around had enjoyed a dizzying display of almost painfully bright, streaking, green lights in the sky. As with many a dark cloud, however, this one has a solid gold lining that saves Masons life. For overnight, every living thing with eyes that witnessed the spectacle has gone blind.

It is vision, that Wyndham points out, and the ability to use it that places us on our throne. Take that vision away and even the lowliest triffid becomes more than a match. Much of the book follows the rapid decline of civilization and the struggles of various characters to preserve that which they feel of most value. Miss Durant wants to preserve the old values of decency and God's law. The Colonel's modest goal is to save the species. Coker, just wants to save as many of the stricken as he can and Mr. Torrence, the red headed man, just wants whatever he can get. It is the interaction between Mason and these various philosophical views that provide the main tension.

While the triffids provide a certain amount of action, their main function appears to be as an allegory for the double edged toys we play with. Nuclear power and military toys might have their uses but, like a triffid, they have a nasty sting given but half a chance.

Double Double John Brunner

This little treasure languished unread in my library for many years until I picked it out for this review. Perhaps it's odd beginning had put me off originally. Once into the story, however, this book is as chilling a SciFi/Horror story as you could possibly want.

The sea harbours many strange and almost unimaginable creatures tucked carefully away in her inky depths. And in this world, like in our own, evolution has been relentlessly driven by the battle to survive. Some creatures, like the shark, have evolved into efficient eating machines. Others, however, have found more subtle solutions to survival. Mimicry is a common trait found in nature, and in the sea many creatures can alter their colour or form to make them worse prey or better hunters. One might well imagine that the easiest way to hunt your prey is to take on it's form. Before dinner figures out that you aren't what you seem, it's far too late.

Normally the depths of the sea and our own little world are kept safely apart. Now and again, however, odd circumstances bring a denizen of the deeps into contact with Mankind but this time Mankind may not survive.

When Bruno and his Hermetic Tradition, a beatnik/hippie band, finally found that elusive stretch of beach on which to hold a "freak out" they never imagined the nightmare in which they were about to become involved. In the darkening light of evening they first mistook it for an injured dog. Soon they discovered that it was in fact a man. A strangely waterlogged and lumpy sort of man but still someone clearly in need of aid. It was as they helped him stumble back to their camp fire that the terror set in. Firstly, his water swollen face, pale as death itself, was half eaten away by fish and for the first time they noticed an alarming fact; the man though moving was NOT breathing.

This is a well paced book and populated by believable characters. The story builds slowly but steadily. Well worth reading.

Earth Has Been Found D.F. Jones

In my opinion, this book is arguably Jones' best. While the jacket synopsis might sound trite, do not be fooled. This book takes what on the surface appears a worn and tired idea and uses it as a spring board to present a truly disturbing and chilling tale.

In Earth Has Been Found, airplanes, once presumed lost, are turning up thousands of miles from their last known positions, and many months or even years after last being sighted. Worse yet, the pilots, passengers, and planes show no signs of time having passed during their absence. Some lifeform with powers bordering on the god-like is plucking airplanes out of time and space and casually returning them. Thus is born project ICARUS, a small group of high-level Americans and Russians, determined to contain and study these events lest a public panic result.

Papa Kilo, a Jumbo full of vacationers from Abdera Hollow USA, has just left Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris France heading for home when it disappears only to reappear several months later near Denver. As the passengers return home, Dr. Freedman, Abdera Hollow's local G.P., is enlisted by ICARUS to report on anything strange. With time it becomes apparent that the passengers of Papa Kilo are abnormally healthy. Right up until they drop into a near-comatose sleep, that is, and develop a strange cyst that grows with unusual speed.

As mighty as we humans often imagine ourselves we have yet to conquer even such lowly parasites as lice or fleas. Might not then even godly beings suffer from their own equivalent of a mosquito? Surely a mosquito to the gods would prove a formidable foe. Seems that the returning planes have brought back more than just the original passengers.

This book is a compelling read and hard to put down. It is, however, when you realize that we have been battling various insects for longer than history records and with only limited success that the real chill of this story sets in. Enjoy.

The Right-Handed Wilderness Robert Wells

OK, not much to say about this book. I originally included it here because of the back cover synopsis. I didn't remember much about it but thought that as I reread the book I would also rediscover why I had liked it. Well I discovered that I didn't like it and probably never had.

This is essentially a detective story and not a very good one at that. The alien life form plays a minimal role in the book and is basically only a potential threat that needs to be neutralized.

Thoroughly dreary in my opinion.

A War of Shadows Jack L. Chalker
(not really the end of the world but it seemed like it could be)

On its cover, A War of Shadows is compared to The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. Certainly the science does not have the same degree of authority or persuasiveness and the characters are not as dimensional. Still, once it gets rolling, the story develops a life of its own and the book becomes quite hard to put down.

Like many things of value, freedoms are hard to win yet easy to lose. A War of Shadows follows an intricate conspiracy to bring about the downfall of the American government and with it democracy (a thorn in many a side). During wars, people have often voluntarily given up freedoms for the sake of the nation, but today war is more likely to end in nuclear annihilation. What the conspirators seek to create is an invisible enemy who cannot be attacked and a weapon that strikes fear to the heart of every man, woman, and child. Enter the Wilderness Organism.

I cannot reveal too much here because it is the discovery that is the most compelling aspect of this book. Imagine a blend of Michael Crichton and Tom Clancy and you have something close to this book.

War of the Worlds H.G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is probably the most well known SciFi story ever, yet if you've seen the movie you may never have taken the time to read the book. It is a special treat.

First published in 1898, Well's narrative tells of the arrival of and subsequent attempted invasion of Earth by Martians. Where the novel departs radically from the movie, though, is the perspective from which it is told. The narrator, while educated, is still a common man and not directly involved in the attempts to repulse the aliens. He is a bystander who is caught up in the chaos as the battle front sweeps back and forth across his position while he races to get himself and his wife to safety.

War of the Worlds is not so much about the Martians as it is humanity and its reaction to the Martians. Initially the Martians are regarded with reserved interest and even when their hostile intentions become apparent there is a general certainty that they will soon be put in their place. This arrogance soon evaporates as the stunning powers of the Martians become apparent. The mood of the people swings between hope and despair as the battles are alternately won and lost. As the narrator flees across England he encounters many individuals with widely varying reactions. As we all know, in the end it is a capricious bit of good fortune that saves the day.

Modern readers may find that Well's writing has an unusual rhythm and cadence. The vocabulary, too, lends a special charm which appeals to me. Still, War of the Worlds is as convincing and compelling a story today, as it was when written. While this novel does have bursts of action, overall it is a more philosophical and contemplative treatment than the movie we all know. Enjoy.