|Warner, US paperback, 328pp, $4.95|
Another Dave Langford review.
You would probably think you know more or less what to expect on the evidence of a title like that. This, however, is fiction. No, no, bite back your horrible, prejudiced and sceptical remarks: I mean it's actually advertised as such. Not as SF, but as a thriller, with the sort of "this astonishing story can only be told as fiction" overtones which have never carried much conviction since it proved miraculously possible to tell the story of Watergate as fact.
Bischoff has done his research, not very difficult in this over-documented field. Names are dropped furiously, some seeming to have got damaged in the process. Thus Hynek is always referred to as "J.Allen Hyenk", possibly for fear that the original -- or rather, his estate -- would sue over a fictional claim that the "Project Blue Book" report was faked. But then we have "Jascque Valle" (spelt thus twice) and mentions of both the Weekly World News and World Weekly News, and one can suspect mere carelessness. Stanton Friedman and Whitley Strieber both come through in clear. Mentioning the first is a wise precaution, as otherwise his lawyers might speculate no end about the fictional "Dr Fenton Leiberman", who by a strange coincidence is "a UFOlogist with a scientific degree who self-published his work and made a living touring and speaking about UFOs and the government cover-up." The featured sceptic naturally expresses very rude opinions of Leiberman.
Since this is labelled as fiction, there's no point in quibbling about its "factual" content or even its viewpoint -- there's a sort of ghastly fairness in the way that everyone here who takes any stance whatever is an unlovable caricature. We should judge Abduction on its merits as fiction ... and only then throw it violently across the room.
Routine bestseller trappings abound. There is much padding and deployment of brand names -- our author even takes time out to tell you about the word processor he uses, and which function key you press to save a document. The characters are all solid, triple-ply cardboard.
Thus we encounter a venal, coke-snorting National Intruder reporter with a fondness for nymphets, a vaguely Sagan-like sceptic with a drink problem and a mind as flexible as a steel trap, an unwashed UFO nut of extreme dippiness ("The key," he said, tapping the aluminium foil, "is the solarnarium. You have to convolute it just so to obtain proper magnetic harmonics," etc.), the sceptic's beautiful daughter who inevitably has a Close Encounter (with the genuine dramatic possibilities of such a father/daughter clash thrown away in soap-operatic shouting)....
In particular I enjoyed the coddled, psychopathic CIA killer, just barely reminiscent of the Executioner in From Russia with Love. "Termination with extreme prejudice," he croons to himself with "a delicious shiver". They have to keep him doped to stop him running amok, and he gets in the mood for work by dropping a hamster into his kitchen-sink disposal unit, turning the switch, and listening in ecstasy to the tiny screams.
Naturally there's plenty of mayhem, all ludicrously overdone. Victims are tortured or knocked off to the accompaniment of corny remarks intended not for them but for readers: as in a grade Z movie, the heavies are playing to the audience. So before being shot, a ham-radio broadcaster who has stumbled on the Secret is gloatingly told: "It's time for the big sign-off ... Your ratings were just terrible." Thickets of exclamation marks impede the narrative flow at supposedly exciting moments.
The plot itself concerns another tiresome conspiracy theory. Everything you know is wrong. Stop me if you've heard this one, but it's that desperately villainous organization the US Government which is behind flying saucers -- using drugs, painful medical examinations and cute robot aliens to establish the story of UFO abductions which it's simultaneously denying, refusing to believe, and struggling to cover up. Conspirators, who can figure 'em? Meanwhile, what about these two enigmatic chaps who walk on occasionally and act enigmatic: could they be real aliens, as the author nudgingly hints? In the other corner, who are the sinister "Publishers" who control everything (including most especially the CIA), and arrange routine murders through their diabolical hitmen, the "Editors"?
Abduction is so awful -- with an awfulness worsened rather than redeemed by occasional efforts to pass off its defects as deliberate tongue-in-cheekery -- that I'd have no hesitation in revealing all the answers. Unfortunately Bischoff neglects to provide them. After a false climax which leaves one villain deceased and one beautiful daughter abducted, the book stops. The hideous revelation is thus that there's more to come; meanwhile, you're cheated of the one slender reason for finishing such dross, the tiny catharsis of learning whodunnit and what it was all about. If volume two shows itself on my doormat, I promise it will follow the hamster into oblivion.
|First published in The Wild Places #3, 1991.|
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