Silverberg, Robert. 1998. The Alien Years. New York: HarperPrism.

Reviewed 14 October 1998

The Alien Years (cover) I really looked forward to this book—a novel by Robert Silverberg that is not about Majipoor. This is not a bad book—far from it. Mr. Silverberg has done a nice job of setting up impossible-to-understand aliens. Unlike so many other contemporary aliens, the beasties in this story really are alien. But when I want to read The Forsyte Sage, I do so. The book ultimately fails to adequately engage the characters.

In many ways, this is the alien invasion story done right. The Entities are irresistable, and take over the planet without much effort or vulnerability to terrestrial diseases. Arrayed against the aliens—and their eventual, inevitable (why do so many writers believe this is dramatic fiction, when the reality of collaboration during World War II has spoiled the concept for so many of us?) collaborators—is the Carmichael clan, which is crazy like a fox. Their multigenerational guerrilla war against the Entities forms the ostensible subject of the book.

Aside: Mr. Silverberg intrudes on the narrative a great deal more than typical in the contemporary novel of speculative fiction, especially with all the comparisons to Wells' War of the Worlds. Many readers may find this distracting. The execution of these narrative intrusions is a bit uneven, and structurally they're somewhat out of place in this saga.

The most obvious difficulty with The Alien Years is that all the characters have for motivation is their hate. I found them as alien as the Entities, in the end. And that's not good for a book of this type. I found myself continually disengaging from the characters. Sometimes that's part of the point (Borges, Garcia Marquez, Calvino, Mann); that doesn't appear to be true of The Alien Years. It certainly doesn't work well in a multigenerational saga that owes much to Galsworthy and Waugh.

But enough negative comments. Mr. Silverberg can write clear prose. He can create good characters (pity so few are central in this book). He inserts just enough plot twists to keep interest, without degenerating into illusory surprises. He has the tools to have made this a much better book. Given his name on the cover, it will sell reasonably well and garner reasonably good reviews from many. It's not an embarassment--just a disappointment.

Overall rating: 3 stars
Good.
This book simply does not live up to its potential. Tom O'Bedlam (4
stars, but out of stock at the publisher in October 1998) is a better "alien invasion" novel, and Dying Inside (5 stars, out of print) remains Silverberg's best work.


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