Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 04 08:41:46 EDT 1990

Raymond's Reviews #33

%T Illegal Aliens
%A James Luceno
%I Ballantine/DelRey
%D April 1990
%O paperback, US$3.95
%P 245
%G 0-345-36254-3

No, this is not the silly-but-fun item of slapstick that pits New York street punks against the stars -- that Illegal Aliens was by Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio, and it was fun.

This is the second SF novel by the author of A Fearful Symmetry, an industrial-strength turkey I reviewed in RR#7. It would be nice to report that Luceno was just having an off day when he wrote that, but unfortunately the best thing one can say about this book is that it's better than Symmetry.

Remy Santoul, tough-guy agent for the interstellar conglomerate NCorp, lands on primitive Q'aantre assigned to discover why their native spy network isn't producing -- and if possible to stymie the e-vile plans of the Xellem, a bunch of ersatz-Mayan nasties intent on scarfing up the planet for reasons that are left just as obscure as NCorp's.

His rezident is a human xenologist who's `gone native' among the catlike indigenes. He claims there is some kind of Major Secret tied up in the Q'aantre's reproductive biology, and...oh? you've read this one before? Yes, so have I, too many times. We just know that Remy's going to have a Transformative Experience and discover the virtues of alien rusticity with some exotic-eyed alien bimbette, and then cleverly cross up both NCorp and the e-vile Xellem, and that the process will involve a whole bunch of mean-streets setpiece scenes and lots of gunfire and skulking about playing with high-tech espionage toys. Sigh....

Regular RR readers should know by this time that I won't necessarily torch a book for being derivative if it's a fun read, nor do I require that everything I praise be an intellectually stimulating or `morally uplifting' Serious Experience. There's a place in the world for potboiler; it scratches fantasy itches that people need scratched. Even a set-up and plot this tired and shopworn can be satisfying if it's done right.

Here, though, it's not. The book is painfully boring -- it comes off as just an unimaginative mess of genre cliches and ingratiating pop-culture references. However, in a perverse way it gives me hope for Luceno, because A Fearful Symmetry was so much worse. If he continues to improve at this rate, his next novel may be something I won't feel like handling with insulated tongs only.

Up to Eric's Home Page To Index Wed Apr 04 08:41:46 EDT 1990

Eric S. Raymond <esr@snark.thyrsus.com>