I’m a fan of David Bridger’s storytelling, and he hasn’t let me down yet. Still, I approached this novella a little tentatively after I read something he said about it being a response to the current political situation. I trust his skills as a writer, but worried the intent would overcome the story. Despite that, I forged ahead.
What I found blew away my fears, and possibly the author’s political intent as well. The story created depth and raised questions for me to explore rather than forcing an answer down my throat as similarly motivated books have tried to do. If I had to classify it, this falls somewhere between the first and the reboot of Alien Nation.
This is the story of two police officers who are asked to execute a complicated scenario where they ostensibly investigate something for a leadership riddled with aliens and collaborators. Their true agenda advances a subversive plot as part of the resistance underground. I’m giving away a little, but it’s in the book blurb already, though less bluntly.
A police procedural tone, dry and factual in accounting, does not prevent the gut-wrenching circumstances or blunt their impact. The story is a complex twist of personalities, positions, and circumstances invisible to the foot soldiers, of which both Carmen Wood and Thomas Able, the main characters, are.
The alien invasion history arrives primarily in one chapter, thinly disguised as conversation, along with a political manifesto. Had the whole of the story been like this chapter, I would have written the novella off, but it’s far from the simple view it appears to be at first look. Wood and Able are an awkward, antagonistic, and untrusting pair. Neither knows of the other’s affiliation with the resistance or that they can trust the other. Aliens are everywhere, and where they are not, humans act as their surrogates to lay claim to wealth and power in a world overrun with the invaders.
It’s rather dark and heavy, with the characters struggling under the burden of frustration and anger they dare not express without risking their own lives and those they care about. At the same time, there are quirky, lighter moments born out of the secrets these two must keep. For example, Able’s uncle is part of a less organized resistance and sees Able as a traitor working for the enemy. If only he knew the truth.
These kinds of twists are what save the novella from becoming little more than a political statement. The characters adapt and learn as the situation unfolds, perhaps changing from where the author intended them to go. They add a powerful caution and complexity I can’t say more about without spoiling something not revealed in the blurb.
The biggest downside is the length. I understand now why the main conflict resolved so quickly, but there were some pieces I would have preferred to see rather than be left to wonder. Another oddity was the use of “human” to cover both people on Earth and people from another planet yet it dealt with the question of “othering” from the start. This removes distinctions of race and species that Earthlings are all too determined to cling to and use against one another.
On the whole, I enjoyed this odd tale. It is more than it seems even within the short length, and while it offers lessons for our current upheaval, not all of those lessons are the ones you might expect. Besides, it won me over with the amusing character interactions.