Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I read all 10 books of the Mission: Earth series

That’s not meant to be boastful. I wouldn’t tell anyone else to try it, and in fact I am making this post as a cautionary statement intended to help others.*

I found nothing objectionable with the premise. A superadvanced alien civilization has established a timetable for the conquest of the universe. A routine scouting mission has realized that Earth civilization is so insane and backwards that by the time the aliens arrive to conquer it, humans will have consumed, misused, and/or destroyed anything worth claiming (I think that this was a problem for the aliens because they needed the planet in good shape to use it as a refueling base, or something). Without alerting Earth to their presence, the aliens have to keep us alive long enough to enslave us. Oh, it also won’t be too tough for them to walk among us since we’re visually identical, thanks to some throwaway sideplot about how life on earth was actually started by rebels fleeing the alien empire.

At first, the narrative device seemed innovative. The books start off as the transcription of a confession, and the primary narrator** is revealed to be a selfish, greedy, depraved wretch who worked for the “Coordinated Information Apparatus,” a government organization that covertly employs bribery, torture, and assassination nominally to protect the government, but actually to consolidate its own power (and its initials are CIA. Get it?). The CIA wants to maintain the status quo for their own nefarious ends, so the books are a first-person account their efforts to stop the hero who has been appointed to fix things.

From the point of view of the narrator, the graft, extortion, imprisonment, fraud, psychosis, and widespread corruption encountered in the alien society are unremarkable; it is then supposed to be funny when he is shocked to encounter extreme versions of the same on earth, as if we have let things get so bad that even an amoral psychopath thinks we’ve gone too far. Larded throughout are also grade-school crudities and efforts at toilet humor, like the two nymphomaniac circus performers named “Cun” and “Twa,” or the cross-dressing homosexual Russian “Colonel Gaylov.”

Observing the hero through the eyes of someone on the villain’s side is an interesting idea, and has been done before with positive results (see also: Black Company). The problem with the Mission Earth books is that both its narrators are completely devoid of any sympathetic characteristics, and both of them believe in relating the action by way of the “tell, don’t show” school of writing***. Conflicts and plot points are rushed and one-sided. The work’s flaws turn out to be an inadvertent blessing as readers are forced to endure:

-A rogue alien geneticist, who is sadistic and depraved (and we know this because we are point-blank told it by the narrator) is regarded as a leading light in earth psychiatry because he preaches that sex is evil, electroshock and lobotomies should be routine medical procedures, and pregnant women are so morally corrupt that they can only be redeemed by death.

-The narrator rapes two lesbians straight (only after being driven to it because they withheld his salary, and they bound him and tortured him extensively). These ex-lesbians love straight sex so much that they keep the narrator hostage in their home, insisting that he rape all their friends.

-One of the ex-lesbians “recruits” an underage girl who propels herself headlong into full depravity, eventually traveling from earth to the alien homeworld to turn all the children of the alien nobles and government officials into bisexual catamite thralls.

-The narrator is dazzled by a mysterious concubine who remains sexually distant and insists on making love with the lights off, and who is later revealed to be a man.

Every one of these sequences was a chore to read****. There are aliens, necrophilia, spaceships, bestiality, faster-than-light travel, sodomy, and erotic mutilation, all relayed in the most tedious fashion possible by a contrived narrator whose unconscious attempts to be funny are all too clearly conscious efforts on the author’s behalf.

While I am unable to discern the fine nuances differentiating satire and parody, I know that neither term apply to these books. I would instead describe them as a gross burlesque that thinks itself a madcap send-up of everything it perceives to be wrong with contemporary society. Big oil has a stranglehold on the planet. The wealthy have more power than governments. The public is gullible and willing to follow anyone with a slick message. When you include the book’s depiction of psychiatry as subverting the natural order of things to pursue a secret agenda, it begins to look less like a work of fiction and more like an extended soapbox rant.

Avoid this series, especially if you’re someone who can’t quit reading something until it’s finished.

*Specifically, others who need written warnings to keep them from doing things like giving the finger to a gang of bikers, selling drugs to grade schoolers, or licking electrical sockets.

**He changes to a secondary narrator for the last few books, for reasons that aren’t worth bothering to explain.

***My argument would be strengthened by actual quotes from the books, but I just can’t do it. I wouldn’t turn back through those pages for all the tea in China, black-market snack cakes in fat camp, booze at an Elks club meeting, etc.

****While it is fair to note that I have only chosen to highlight the most deviant sexual practices contained within the series, my counterpoint would be that there is little else in them that is memorable. All of the physical problems on Earth are solved by superadvanced alien techno-magic, leaving the hero and the narrator to grapple with Earth’s backwards cultural attitudes for the majority of the books.

No comments: