Sunday, July 22, 2018

Childishreads: Bruce Coville's Alien Adventures


Premature claims to maturity went out of the window when I recently discovered ebooks of my second favourite primary school sci-fi saga (that wasn't about anthropomorphic Sega characters) and felt notably more excited than I did going in to Alan Moore's bloated novel or Alfred Hitchcock's acclaimed oeuvre. I'm not fooling anyone.

As I remember it, the interdimensional bodysharing adventures of everyboy Rod Allbright and the crew of the good ship Ferkel were unpatronising, awe-inspiring sci-fi for young nerds that went to some pretty weird places, literally and thematically. It was basically Junior Farscape.

The first three were among the privileged books preserved for posterity on four sides of Maxell D90 cassettes when I went through my slightly odd phase of recording audiobooks for fun. By the time the conclusion to the series came out a few years later, I'd moved on to "proper" sci-fi and didn't spare it a thought. Until I could finally get closure as a 32-year-old manchild.


Bruce Coville, Aliens Ate My Homework

1993 / Ebook / 192 pages / USA

***

I'd already read Coville's unrelated but undeniably similar My Teacher Is an Alien, but hadn't found that interesting enough to continue with the series, so I doubt I would have bothered with this one if I hadn't already been drawn in by its compellingly stranger-looking sequel. Then been frustrated to find myself stuck on Earth for the duration as we spend time easing in the uncertain readers.

Even at 10, I found its kidbait title a bit patronising (not so for 'sneakers,' which was a cool American word like Sonic or the Toxic Crusaders would say), its relatable schoolyard stuff tedious and its humdrum villain plot an annoying distraction from getting to spend more time hanging out with the colourful ensemble and touring their cribs. They might be stock characters at the core, but it's the exotic flourishes that made them appealing back then and now, especially Phil the punning plant and his symbiotic cat-monkey thing. It's fair to say I didn't pick up on the gay couple the first time around.

There's no arguing with Coville's utopian outlook and moralising, which I could have done with paying more attention to back in the day, but there's also a nagging feeling that this whole exercise was just unsubtle marketing for an action figure range that never materialised.


Bruce Coville, I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X

1994 / Ebook / 192 pages / USA

****

After that introductory prologue, we begin the trilogy and Rod's Hero's Journey proper. This psychedelic odyssey exploded my imagination as a child, so much that I ripped off its vivid descriptions of alien landscapes and Katherine Coville's character designs in my own juvenilia.

I was fresh from the Narnia books at the time, having enjoyed their imaginative detours more than their Warhammer battles, and if you strip away the technobabble, this tale of giant castles, mushroom houses and doors between worlds felt like a modern update. Rod's bratty cousin Elspeth is basically Eustace.


Bruce Coville, The Search for Snout (a.k.a. Aliens Stole My Dad)

1995 / Ebook / 224 pages / USA

***

While either of the previous books could be enjoyed independently, we've reached the point where the series starts to take itself too seriously now and isn't concerned with winning over new acolytes. That's just one of several things it has in common with Search for Spock, one of several genre references that burgeoning sci-fi fans could retrospectively get as they grow up, but denied to British readers lest we embark on a quest for fags (actual reason for the title change. The new title isn't even accurate).

With its sombre tone, long pauses for exposition and more time-filling captures and escapes than an old Doctor Who serial, this isn't as much fun as the previous book, but the customary zaniness is still occasionally present courtesy of the bizarre evolution of Rod's pet and their travels through a monster's surprisingly accommodating digestive system. The cliffhanger ending's a memorable one too, but having let things precariously dangle for a couple of decades, it's probably time to ruin things back to normal now.


Bruce Coville, Aliens Stole My Body

1998 / Ebook / 240 pages / USA

****

I'd never read this finale before, which at least spared me from being annoyed by that cover. Should I ask someone to clarify what size and colours these creatures are supposed to be that I'm badly reproducing from black and white illustrations in a scene that doesn't take place in the story? Nah, they're probably tall and reddish aren't they.

Even without nostalgia to hold it up, this was one of the more satisfying entries in the series. Splitting up the cast was a good call now that it's got so crowded some are even having to share the same body, and I was impressed at how long that particular situation was played out. The heroic finale's inevitable but earned.

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