Invasion, Robin Cook

Berkley, 1997, 338 pages, C$8.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-425-15540-4

Wow, that book sucked.

I know; I know; I shouldn’t expect much from a paperback original adapted from a TV miniseries. I should expect even less from a thriller author meddling with science-fiction for the first time. And, goodness gracious, it’s not as if I had big expectations for Robin Cook after his execrable Fatal Cure. It’s not as if I hadn’t read bad reviews of the book already. But you never know. Sometimes, there are surprises.

But then again sometimes, there are no surprises. From the opening prologue, if not the very first page, something is wrong: Cook uses scientific words and expressions in a sloppy fashion, as if he only half understood what he was describing. The sequence -the apparition and crash-landing of an extraterrestrial space-ship- wants to be exact but ends up muddled. (As if that wasn’t bad enough, we don’t even know at this point that what’s being described doesn’t even match what happens later in the book.)

Things get worse in the first chapter, as Cook throws the book’s characters at the unsuspecting reader. They’re not introduced as much as they’re dropped on-stage, with cute names (“Beau”, “Pitt”, “Cassy”, “Nancy”, etc.) and threadbare personalities. Half of them are medical specialists or students, which will obviously be handy later on. Fortunately, it’s not required to learn anything about the characters yet: Invasion quickly settles into a quiet rip-off of INVASIONS OF THE BODY SNATCHERS and anyone even remotely familiar with tales of alien invasions can just relax and see where Cook intends to go.

Very quickly, it becomes obvious that Cook intends to go where every other science-fiction writer has gone before. As hunky Beau is taken over by an alien parasite, his personality changes and he becomes prone to saying things like “Hmm, humans are so strange.” His girlfriend isn’t particularly bothered by the changes given how he’s suddenly really really good in bed. (One would question how the alien knows those mad lovin’ skillz, but then again one could forever question just about everything in this novel.) Still, when he goes out and buys a dog without telling the missus, enough is enough and so she decides to leave and confide in her other platonic male best friend. (Why the heck would Beau-alien so spectacularly blow his cover without first infecting his girlfriend is a plot-busting question best left to anyone with an average IQ and up.)

It gets more or less worse from there, as alien crafts magically replicate, take over the population and create black holes whenever it’s convenient for the needs of the plot. Like most struggling SF writers, Cook conjures up all sorts of really creepy events, but never bothers to offer a unified theory of how they all interrelate. Things happen randomly and that’s that. The aliens are invading; screw any other rationale than pure evil. Whatever happens after the invasion is left blurry.

By the time a rag-tag bunch of misfits cook up an antidote of sorts in an abandoned high-tech laboratory hidden under the desert (hey, whatever), the book reads like a parody devoid of humour or even self-awareness. Invasion has a unique moment of SF goodness when it is revealed that the aliens are building an inter-dimensional gate to link Earth with the thousands of other conquered planets. While SF fans will read this and think “Cool! Let us see more of that!”, the characters react like xenophobic rednecks and go “We must destroy the gate! Eew! Icky aliens!”. Naturally enough, it’s all solved in the last ten pages as a counter-infection is going to kill off all traces of alien invasions. (Meanwhile, SF readers are concerned about whether those “infected” humans can, in fact, be uninfected without massive casualties, but that’s something that Cook obviously doesn’t care much about.)

Ultimately, though, a 700-words review isn’t enough to detail all the logical mistakes and deeply stupid moments in Robin Cook’s Invasion. Nor is it enough to give a sense of how tedious this book is, thanks to the lack of surprises and the flat characters. But it is just long enough to tell you to stay away from it, unless you want to see a real compendium of bad Science Fiction by an author who ought to stick to medical thrillers. And maybe not even that, judging how even that portion of Invasion fails to be any more credible. But what else did I expect?

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