- Invasion , Luke Rhinehart, Titan Books, 2016, $14.95
What would happen if Earth were invaded by brilliant, fun-loving aliens with the best of intentions? How welcome would such a species be?
If there was ever an era that cried out for satire, our current state of affairs surely qualifies; we seem to have developed an advanced knack for shooting ourselves in the foot. Twentieth-century writers such as Vonnegut and Robert Anton Wilson had plenty to say about it all, but we've been overdue for a good ,dark, absurdist skewering for some time now.
Enter Luke Rhinehart and his FFs. (FF stands for Funny Fish; one of the earliest contactees was a commercial fisherman, and the name stuck. Out of context, though, there's not much of a resemblance; the aliens generally resemble largish beach balls covered with gray fur, although they're able to configure themselves in various ways as the occasion calls for it.) Rhinehart (born George Cockcroft), an Albany resident, is the author of The Dice Man, published in 1972 to considerable acclaim; the counterculture classic has repeatedly been called one of the most influential novels of the past century and has been published in more than 60 countries. And with Invasion, Rhinehart may just have done it again.
Billy Morton is a happily married father of two, an engaging curmudgeon who's got enough `60s sensibility left to cope with an unexpected and inexplicable guest better than most people might. He, his wife Lita, and their boys welcome the hairy sphere into their lives and a brief, peaceable honeymoon of mutual observation takes place. They're all aware that something exceptional is going on here, though—as one would be when such a creature comes to stay and soon begins to surf the Internet at lightning speed—and once the secret of their unusual guest leaks out, the honeymoon's definitely over.
It turns out that Louie, as they come to call the ET, is one of a larger invading force of furry orbs who've come to visit, bringing with them intellectual and physical abilities that make humans seem more than a bit simple. But it's their philosophical stance and their agenda that are perhaps the biggest differences of all: The FFs are here for fun. Life itself, up to and including interspecies contact, is a giant game to them. In that spirit, they embark on a wide range of pranks and shenanigans in the name of convincing humans to lighten up and live.
It's hard to imagine a friendlier bunch of aliens. Yet, as Billy has realized all along, Earth's hardly ready for this, given the sourpusses in charge. FFs elicit mostly positive reactions from ordinary folks once the initial shock wears off; the same cannot be said of the vast bureaucracies of the global military-industrial-financial complex. From their collective point of view, having a pack of giant beach balls wanting to play is, well, terrifying. Of course.
Rhinehart's casual, straightforward prose is the perfect foil for the pyrotechnic plot. Billy's kindly cynicism makes him an ideal observer; his recounting is interspersed with case notes, official records, and news items from around the globe.
It rapidly becomes evident that, although they're not emotionally invested in the outcome, these beings could save us from ourselves. Will we let them? Rhinehart leaves things open-ended. One is left hoping the book gains the viral fame it deserves; that would be the next best thing to a nonfictional FF invasion.