Monday, September 17, 2018

The Spaceship Next Door

The Spaceship Next Door
by Gene Doucette
Recommended Ages: 13+

Annie Collins, age 16, is the life of Sorrow Falls, Mass. A short bicycle ride from where she lives with her cancer-afflicted mother and without, repeat, without her father, a UFO landed three years ago and hasn't done anything since then. At least, nothing anybody knows about. No little green men came out and asked to meet the planet's leader. No killer robots rampaged through town, shooting lasers out of their eyes. In fact, nothing has changed in Sorrow Falls at all - which is really spooky, when you think about it. But so far, the only person who has managed to think about it is a government researcher named Ed, who hires Annie to serve has his translator because his cover (being a journalist looking to write a story about Sorrow Falls) isn't standing up to local folks' scrutiny.

Together, Annie and Ed visit the RV encampment across the road from the army-guarded gate to the field where the UFO stands. They talk to a local leader of industry. They look at a mural at the public library depicting the founding of Sorrow Falls. They explore the vague hints that the alien ship really is doing something that may threaten all life on Earth. They become a bit concerned when a couple of people start to exhibit what may be a tendency to have violent episodes while sleepwalking, followed immediately by death, or (gulp) the first awakenings of a zombie apocalypse. But really, what Ed would like to know is who managed to put a handprint on the alien ship, in spite of a force field around it that forces horrible thoughts into the mind of anyone who comes close. And it's just when Ed and Annie are starting to realize that the solution to the mystery is closer than they would ever have guessed, everything goes crazy. Bombs. Zombies. Heavily armed conspiracy nuts driving a camper like it's a tank. An intelligence so alien that it really does threaten the survival of the whole planet. And between us and doomsday, one 16-year-old girl with guts, brains, and people skills enough for 20 people.

This is a weird, woolly, wild and wonderful book, full of science fiction in-joke chapter titles, intelligent dialogue, humor, romance, action/suspense jeopardy heavy enough to bend starlight, and characters and relationships that pop up in three or more dimensions before the mind's eye. It's a book full of genre stereotype-breaking surprises, excruciating honesty, compassion for flawed people and lovable whimsy. Every move is unexpected in the moment, while somehow, at the same time, the story coalesces together with a sense of inevitability.

I am really interested, now, to look at some of Gene Doucette's other works, which include an indeterminate number of "Immortal" books (Fantastic Fiction is strangely vague about this), stand-alone novels Fixer and Unfiction, and the sequel to this book, The Frequency of Aliens. His non-fiction titles include Beating Up Daddy: A Year in the Life of an Amateur Father and Vacations and Other Errors in Judgment.

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