Written by: Dean Giles
Alien invasion stories are an interesting sub-genre of science fiction. They compare quite nicely to high fantasy in that the seminal entries were written about a century ago, and in that time we haven’t really come up with any interesting ways to divert from the formula. Consider that Independence Day is for all intents and purposes War of the Worlds only bigger and bloated with American jingoism. Despite the ninety-eight years that separate the two stories, the ending is still the same: all the armies of man couldn’t defeat the invaders were it not for a humble virus; a computer virus with respect to the latter but the conceit remains a constant. Therefore in evaluating an alien invasion story only one all-important question comes to my mind: Does it do something new? Alien Apocalypse: The Storm, most certainly does.
The story, though a discrete unit on its own, represents a first episode in a much larger narrative. Yet it would be mistake to assume that this is a blasé introduction. There’s no filler or extraneous back story as the plot shifts between the story’s two principle characters. Elliot Weber is an eleven-year-old living with his grandparents in the English countryside. Leon Weber, Elliot’s father, is serving out the last few months of a four year prison sentence. For reasons that are both deceptive and poignant, Elliot has not seen his father since Leon’s incarceration. In spite of the physical isolation, the two maintain a relationship through phone calls, email and letters. At the beginning of the story, their most recent correspondence involves a comet that passes very near to the Earth.
My first thought when I read about the comet: “Great. Here come the tripods, heat rays, and black gas.”
I’m convinced that Mr. Giles took this approach just so he could have a laugh at the expense of readers like myself who jumped to a false conclusion.
Either by accident or design, the close pass of the comet deposits a form of semi-sentient plant life on the Earth. Excreting acid and multiplying at exponential rates, the moss eats everything that it comes into contact with. Earth and all its life upon it have no natural defence against the invading life form. In that sense these “aliens” are more akin to the virus from The Andromeda Strain than any sort of grey alien. Of course, the green moss assimilates biological life with such terrifying efficiency as to make Andromeda look like a bad case of the sniffles. At this point, I could draw a line between the red weeds that H.G. Welles’ Martians used to terraform the Earth. However those plants were nowhere near as pernicious as the green moss and only took root, pardon the pun, as a consequence of tripods and war machines.
After only a few days of exposure to our planet’s biosphere, the green moss has brought civilization, or at least England, to an absolute ruin. Leon wakes up in his solitary confinement cell thinking that the prisoners are rioting only to find that society has collapsed in around him. From there, the plot is rather straight forward; Elliot must survive the encroaching moss long enough for his father to rescue him.
I will admit that at first I found both of the characters to be a little archetypal. Granted invoking familiar archetypes is necessary in a story that very quickly moves from everyday life to a post-apocalyptic environment. While Elliot remains little more than a goal for his father throughout the story, Leon’s personality develops quite nicely beyond the cliché of an ex-military ex-con with a heart of gold. In fact, by the time the story was done I felt genuinely connected to Leon as a character.
There are also hints of environmental and colonizing force motifs at play within the story. It begins with Leon’s attempts to maintain his sense of self within the brutal environment of Her Majesty’s Prison Wormwood Scrubs. The metaphor continues with the nature of the green moss as a literal colonizing force upon the Earth. In both instances an environmental force is acting upon a pre-existing system to forcibly convert it into something made in the former’s own image. Since the grand narrative is still very much in its nascent phase, the over arcing ideas remain somewhat undeveloped. However, the seeds have clearly been planted for some interesting extended metaphors in subsequent editions of the series.
Overall, Alien Apocalypse deals with what I call the “Welles Paradox” (Where the capacity for narrative depth within an alien invasion story is proportional to the efficiency of the invasion) by destroying the world and then turning his characters loose within it. This setting results in an immediate empathy with the story’s adult protagonist as he embarks on a routine but wholly accessible quest. The nature of the story is focused enough to keep a reader interested while maintaining a natural potential for serialization without feeling pulpy. I for one can’t wait to see what Mr. Giles come up with next.
Overall score: +3
You can buy yourself a copy of Alien Apocalypse: The Storm as well as reading its free prequel story at TWB Press.