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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
dreary in my opinion.
A War of Shadows Jack L. Chalker
(not really the end of the world but it seemed like it
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.