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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: After the Saucers Landed by Douglas Lain

What would a book read like if Connie Willis chose to write a Philip-K.-Dick style of novel? Probably something much like After the Saucers Landed by Douglas Lain. Appropriately enough, it was a finalist for the Philip K. Dick award, but maybe it should have landed on other award ballots as well. How many books change when you reread them? You read the same words both times, but you realize something else entirely is going on.

The protagonist, a popular UFO writer and professor, traverses the seventies to the nineties. Before the aliens land, he is a laughing stock among his colleagues. He does find refuge in his wife, Virginia. After the aliens, he is more respected, but he suspects that the identities of his wife--the woman he thought of as his wife--is really an alien, Asket. Asket has also been wife to other friends. She slips into and out of human identities so convincingly that even our protagonist is unsure, requiring the mall security to throw him out of its establishment.

Identity is the core issue here, explored in a subdued Dick fashion. Dick might have escalated the events to a fever pitch. But that is not the story here, which makes the novel in some ways more sinister. Things do and don't escalate. Events the should have escalated in the proper Fifties paranoid fashion, don't. You read one story by the novel's end, but as you turn back to page one and reread, you suspect that that explanation of events is not good enough.

It may take time before Lain's accomplishment here is recognized. After all, the novel begs to be read twice. On my first read, I'd have given the book four stars, but how could I not give five stars to a book that rewrites itself? If there are better books this year, it'll be one heck of a year for literature in deed.

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