Brother Termite, Patricia Anthony

Ace, 1995, 261 pages, C$6.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-441-00187-4

(The roomful of journalist quietens as the White House Press Attaché enters the conference room)

Attaché: Ladies and gentleman, the press conference will begin soon. Christian Sauvé will read a short statement, and then answer your questions. Please welcome The Reader of Rockland.

(Christian Sauvé enters the room, goes to the podium and clears his throat. He shows a paperback edition of Brother Termite to the audience)

Reader: The book discussed today is Brother Termite, by Patricia Anthony. To resume it quickly: The premise of the novel is quite fascinating, since it’s about a White House chief of staff who’s really an alien. Unfortunately, the book never quite lives up to that promising slogan: In the world Miss Anthony postulates, all his alien buddies are running things in the background with the full approval of the world’s governments. We get implausible extrapolation, validation of the most popular alien-conspiracy theories, a thoroughly unsympathetic alien protagonist and an overall atmosphere of gloominess. I do not recommend the purchase of this book, and considers it one of the least interesting work of fiction I’ve read this year. Now, on to the questions. Yes?

Man: Bernstein, Washington Post: What do you mean by “alien-conspiracy theories?”

Reader: Well, in the novel we eventually learn that the alien “hero” -I use the term loosely-, named Reej, was close to presidents since Eisenhower, arranged to have Kennedy killed, in addition of being closely implicated in abductions, human experiments and the like. What Anthony does, really, is say “Okay, so all the conspiracies are true. What now?” I mean, just look at the cover art! Isn’t that the prototypical Grey?

Man2: Stine, for Analog: Could you comment on the implausible extrapolations?

Reader: Sure. The novel takes place at fifty years in the future, yet absolutely nothing has changed. People are still eating McDonald’s Happy Meal, having AT&T install their telephone lines, driving Jaguars, booting up computers. In fact, this future even appears retrograde, since there’s nothing even approaching the Internet, or any sophisticated technology that we have right now. Anthony tries to cover up everything by saying that the aliens just blocked everything related to progress, but that’s unbelievable! I don’t think humanity could tolerate such a stagnation, and I’m speaking from an intellectual, cultural and economical viewpoint all at once. Our civilisation -our economy!- depends on change and growth. Yet Anthony more or less assumes the same world… (Noticing the impatience of journalists) Yes?

Woman: Vonarburg, for Solaris: Aren’t you missing the point, here? Isn’t Brother Termite a satire?

Reader: Oh, absolutely! But there’s a difference between being satiric and being stupid. The tone of the novel is dark, serious and mostly humourless. Reej spends most of his time brooding and feeling sorry for just about everyone. By page 100 you wish he’d die, by page 200 you wish everyone would die. When the novel start bringing up things like a president who’s been president for fifty years, or his successor being President Kennedy as channelled by a medium, or some sort of mythical alien group consciousness… Well, enough is enough! I like satiric SF when it’s well-done, but in this case, it just ain’t. Next question?

Man: Cronkite, Columbia Journalism Review: What is the place of media in Brother Termite?

Reader: Pitiful. Miss Anthony believes you’re a bunch of degenerate dolts who accept everything told to them like holy gospel, and ask idiotic questions about Kennedy’s affair with Marilyn Monroe instead of -keeping in tone with the novel- investigating an alarming drop in birth rates.

(Uncomfortable shifting in the journalistic audience.)

I mean, I wouldn’t expect you to believe everything I say at face value: Who knows, perhaps I’m the only one on this planet who hates the book? Yes?

Woman: Karman, from Womyn Will Win: A Question and a follow-up: Reading your past reviews, I was struck by the fact that you dislike a lot of women SF writers. Weren’t you biased against Brother Termite?

Reader: I certainly was. Aside from Lois McMaster Bujold, very few women SF writers are writing what I like to read. They either write literary stuff I can’t stomach, or else they commit new-age crap like Ammonite that’s not even worth the effort of discussing again. Your follow-up?

Woman: How come all the critical questions asked in the review are from women?

Reader: So you caught on to that? Good… Yes?

Man: Krishnamurti, Journal of Applied Philosophy: Your rejection of Brother Termite seems more holistic than factual. Is there some basic assumption in the book that goes completely against your perception of the world?

Reader: Yes, as a matter of fact. You know, I’m of the John Campbell/David Brin school of though: We humans are good, in both sense of the term. We’re smarter, more adaptable, more able to take care of everything than anything around us. Despite everything you may hear on the news, and the self-depreciating pop philosophy that’s fashionable nowadays, humans have made incredible progress, sociologically speaking, in the last decades toward non-aggression, peaceful understanding and compassion. We have laws, and almost everyone obey the important ones. Physically disadvantaged people, (touching glasses) me included, are now living long productive lives that would have been impossible in any other time. And that’s not the ET’s influence: That’s something we managed ourselves. The greatest thing about us humans is that we’re never satisfied: We just have to keep on coming with better solutions. To strive, to seek and not to yield-

Man: That’s Tennyson!

Reader: -that’s the spirit. And what does Anthony make of us in Brother Termite? Wimps! Amoebas! Idiots who don’t mind a fifty-year break of progress? Preposterous! I hate to steal a line from Ursula K. LeGuin, (*) especially one that I don’t agree with, but Anthony has diminished the human race for the sake of one lousy story, and that, is unforgivable.

(A Pause)

Woman: So, did you like it?

(Laughter, even the Reader is amused)

Reader: No, I’m sorry to say I didn’t. I really hope this isn’t Miss Anthony’s best novel, because that’s not very impressive. I don’t think you should read it, period. In a way, it’s a schizophrenic book: UFO-freaks aren’t smart enough to catch on the subtle political and SF details, while those smart enough to do so won’t be able to suspend their disbelief because of the UFO elements. In case you’re wonderi
ng, I’m so critical that I hated everything.

(More laughter. The Reader looks at the clock.)

Reader: Well, I’m holding up your deadlines. See you next time!

(Exits Reader)

(* Bibliographical notice: In Playground of the Mind, Larry Niven states that Ursula K. LeGuin doesn’t like his “Inconstant Moon” because Niven was essentially willing to wipe out half the human race for the sake of one love story. Of course, LeGuin herself was willing to transform the whole human race in insensitive oppressive savage (male) exploiters in her “The Word for World is Forest.” As you all see, opinions differ.)

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