An Alien Collective

An Alien Collective – by Roxanne Barbour – (Cdn – Burnaby, B.C.) – Find it here

Premise: Eight human teenagers awaken on an alien world. As do three other teams of eight teenagers, all aliens, each team from a different planet. For all thirty-two kids, this is a first contact situation. Who brought them here? For what purpose? And what do they do when they begin to learn the answers?

Being my wise and sophisticated self, I expected something akin to The Hunger Games, or perhaps Lord of the Flies, or the Gorn episode in Star Trek. Perhaps something as drastic as Harry Harrison’s Deathworld where even the grass is busting a gut to kill the human interlopers. But apart from one unexpected act of violence by an unseen animal, this planet is placid and benign. Had the teenagers awoken in the middle of Australia they would have been in infinitely greater danger.      We know their location is alien because the grass is purple and the sunsets are green. That’s about it. Most description in the book is generic and far from concrete. The cookhouse is a cookhouse. It has dining tables. I think the building is made of wood. I would have liked more detail.

To be fair, the details don’t matter. Everything is in the situation, the conundrum of their presence, which the teenagers attempt to resolve through a combination of exploration and quiet revolt against the daily printed instructions from their abductors. Bit by bit we learn that the rather stunted ecology of the planet—no birds of any sort, for instance—is evidently the product of a past catastrophe which is also probably responsible for the crumbled ruins they begin to find here and there, overgrown in the woods or buried deep within caves. What has this to do with them and their predicament? Possibly nothing. Possibly everything.

Of course, being teenagers, romance begins to blossom. There’s talk of nothing being wrong with interracial relations. True enough. But interspecies between aliens? A bit tricky. How tricky? Well there’s mention the bathroom facilities are multifunction so that all four races can use them easily. Are we talking a hodgepodge of nozzles and pumps and intakes that make zero gravity toilets aboard the International Space Station look simple? Or just a glorified outhouse? It is left to our imagination to visualize the level of sexual compatibility.

Probably very compatible. The aliens are humanoid, with very minor differences, like six-fingered hands, or mottled camouflage skin. All share very human concerns. They miss their parents. They worry about homework piling up back home. They wonder about how being abducted to an alien planet will affect their choice of careers.

Just when I was beginning to fantasize about running past the bunkhouses in the middle of the night tossing hand grenades through the open windows in order to get some action going, I began to clue in. I figured out whom the book is targeting.

This is a very gentle book, a soothing book, a very reassuring book. I think it is aimed at young teenage girls who are shy, unsure of themselves, and probably quite timid and unassertive in the face of bullies. They share the learning experience of Cyn-Tia Silverthorne, the appointed leader of the human team, as she puzzles out the situation and comes up ways and means to test the alien abductors, maintain morale, and prevent boredom from setting in (always a priority among teenagers). There are a few grumps who don’t want to do chores, but eventually a spirit of camaraderie prevails, everyone draws closer together, so that they face the final revelations united and determined.

From what I remember of my teenage years, this is extremely unlikely, but the book isn’t meant to be realistic (all realism is dystopian, alas), it is a kind of guide to getting a grip on oneself, becoming more capable, more adult, and just incidentally, how to handle puppy love.

Yep, a book for young girls just becoming teenagers would be my guess. Though a bit disconcerting some of them demand contraceptives from the alien abductors, so maybe the target audience is teenage girls in general.

I say girls because, to my 1950s-imprinted way of thinking, boys would demand a lot more action with emphasis on the problems rather than the solutions. Almost makes me think boys and girls really are different after all. But then, consider as a young boy I used to draw underground tunnels filled with frantic stick figures running through the torments of hell, or as my Grandfather used to say “What’s wrong with this boy?” Possibly I was not your average little boy. Possibly I am not qualified to judge this self-help confidence-boosting fantasy for girls on the verge of becoming women. Possibly.

Rating: Interesting. I have to admit this sort of book is too quiet for my taste. Nevertheless I found myself wondering what was going on and what they would find in the woods. Always intrigued by any hint of alien artifacts showing up. Or monsters. Consequently the overall ambience of placidity was something of a disappointment. But I’m not relevant to the book. I’m not the target readership.

Psychologically I think the book is well designed for insecure girls, it would stir their imagination and allow them to fantasize about becoming self-confident and unafraid to be assertive, while at the same time not scaring them or frightening them with excessive violence or uneasy fears. You might call it a niche-market novel. It is published by Wee Creek Press which publishes books for very young children, middle grade, and YA works. I’m not sure precisely which category this book occupies, but I’m pretty certain the type of girl this book is aimed at would enjoy reading it. A worthy accomplishment for any author.

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