Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Alien Beach, by A. R. Yngve

If I were to say that Alien Beach is a self-published novel available for free on the web from the Swedish writer A. R. Yngve, you would probably instantly have some preconceived notions about it – namely that it would probably suck. I am here to tell that it does not, in fact, suck. It’s not terribly good, but it is an early work by an author who has been published in quite a few venues. This is not amateurish fan fiction. It is deeply flawed, but if you’re looking for a fast, free story about alien first contact, you could do worse than to read this.

The basic premise is that an alien race comes to visit Earth. They’ve been receiving our TV and Radio broadcasts for quite awhile now, and would like to get to know us better. After a first meeting on the Moon, they lease an island in the South Pacific for a year. They park their ship in a lagoon, and an international crew of scientists set up camp on the island. In a parallel story line, an anonymous Gulf War veteran starts to have strange visions that he believes are related to the aliens. As he moves closer to them, he gets ensnarled with an alien worshipping cult, but eventually manages to free himself and meet the aliens.

Let me address the flaws: Some of the characters are instantly recognizable as real people. This is especially regrettable in the case of the protagonist Carl Sayer, who is obviously Carl Sagan. It gets very distracting, and it lends to the feeling that this is a book written by a science fiction fan for science fiction fans with all the in-jokes that entails. Also, there are lots of “yeah, right” moments in this book. A lot of them involve international politics (would Israel join Iran in withdrawing from the UN because we let aliens visit the Moon?), others involve personal relationships (middle aged female scientist makes pass at respected, married, elder scientist. After being predictably rejected she is so distraught that she leaps onto the camp doctor for a one night stand. There are no consequences from any of this). The characters are usually two-dimensional and often act in ridiculously juvenile ways. The dialog and exposition can be clunky.

However, the soldier is a well-realized character with some depth to him. And the aliens, while not particularly well characterized, have some very interesting characteristics, particularly the way they (perhaps) advance into higher forms of being. Also, the world-building of their culture and background is admirable. While they are aquatic creatures, they aren’t simply dressed-up dolphins or rubber-masked humans, which is better than many.

All in all this is a fast read. If you let yourself go with it and don’t let yourself get distracted by your eyes rolling every now and again, you should enjoy it as a nice light, almost Golden Age-feeling science fiction novel (although showing the lack of a Golden Age editor).

I’ve been in contact with the author, helping him straighten out some typos that were bugging me and giving him some feedback on specific issues that I felt the book needed work on. He asked me to include this statement in my review:

In hindsight, I see that many of the characters in ALIEN BEACH act immaturely ("Soldier" openly says in the final chapter that he has been behaving like a teenager). I'm not sure precisely to what degree this was a conscious choice.

But I do know that the novel contains much intentional satire of the 1990s: the shallowness of the culture, the immaturity of adults, the Monica Lewinsky Affair, religious cults on a suicide trip, and a pervading millennial dread.

Note how several characters, from the very first chapter, talk about The End of The World. During the 1990s, I often heard such comments in real life, from perfectly “normal" people.

Which is another reason why why it would be so difficult for me to rewrite ALIEN BEACH: it was written in and for a different era -- pre-9/11, if you will.