St. Martin’s Press – Thomas Dunne Books 2006
The “Roswell Incident” is a modern American legend that has mystified, amused and inspired fans of science fiction for nearly sixty years: Did a space ship crash land in New Mexico in 1947? If so, what happened to the ship and its occupant(s)? Are they hidden away in a top-secret United States government facility? Or does someone else have them? And who are the “men in black?”
What if what happened in 1947 was a portent of things to come?
David Lynn Golemon answers these questions with his debut novel Event, a science fiction action thriller about a secret U.S. government agency called the Event Group and its investigation of a new alien sighting in the present day. In the words of Garrison Lee, the Event Group’s octogenarian leader, “The world is shaped by pivotal Events throughout our past; they have steered us into making not just changes to survive, but civilization-altering changes.” The Event Group’s mission is to discover these events of historical significance and use the information gleaned from them to dictate U.S. government policy. Although most of the Events studied by the Event Group are in the past, thus making the investigations archaeological, sometimes they occur in the present. When a spy satellite spots two space ships identical to the one that crashed in 1947 flying over the Pacific Ocean, the race is on for the Event Group to find the ships before others with competing interests do so first.
Event invites comparisons not only to the novels of Tom Clancy (Golemon’s biography cites him as an influence and the names of two of the good guys in Event, Jack Collins and Jason Ryan, call to mind Clancy’s Jack Ryan), but also to television and film, including The X-Files, Men In Black, Independence Day, Alien, Predator, E.T., Tremors, and Indiana Jones. The variety of its predecessors highlights the novel’s intriguing but unrealized potential as it searches for its sense of identity, starting out as a novel of government intrigue and the rewriting of mythical history only to turn into the written equivalent of a bloated summer movie blockbuster, with lots of explosions and a high body count but a dearth of substance.
Despite its stated objective to learn from the relics of the past, the Event Group seems to investigate Events more for their “cool” factor and to establish an air of intrigue for the story. Golemon fails to establish why, for instance, it would be in the U.S. government’s interest to discover the remains of King Arthur and examine them for years while keeping them secret from the rest of the world. While fans of the Indiana Jones films could probably come up with some juicy supernatural reasons for such secrecy, there is not a hint of the fantastic in Event, nor any indication of what type of vital information the Event Group could possibly be collecting from such artifacts.
The Event Group’s competitors come in the form of the Genesis Group, the evil corporation responsible for the disappearance of the original Roswell spaceship, and one of the Genesis Group’s independent contractors, Henri Farbeaux, a former French colonel with the taste for relics and urbanity of Raiders of the Lost Ark’s René Belloq and the ruthlessness of a Bond villain. The Genesis Group looms as a menacing presence early in the novel only to disappear from the story almost entirely, while Farbeaux appears sporadically on the periphery of the story, his role primarily to serve as the story’s human bad guy and to give other characters in the novel an opportunity to make fun of the French.
The second half of Event involves the Event Group suiting up in cutting-edge military gear and heading out to the alien ships’ crash site in the Arizona wilderness, where they will encounter a grizzled prospector named Gus, a diminutive, friendly alien modeled after E.T. nicknamed “Matchstick,” and the ship’s monstrous cargo. Having dispensed with the archaeology and espionage, Event becomes part Alien, part Tremors, with the Event Group’s military personnel and the nearby small town suffering significant casualties. Golemon seems most in his element when describing high-powered weaponry and vehicles, and technophiles should enjoy the descriptions as humans and aliens square off.
Unfortunately, when the dust settles, the story’s artifice becomes manifest. The dropped ideas and plotlines seem less of a premise and more of a pretext to get a bunch of soldiers into the desert to fight some space monsters. The cast of characters suffers from typecasting and underdevelopment, instantly familiar but not uniquely memorable enough for the reader to care when many of them die. Some elements, such as the comic relief provided by Matchstick and Gus, feel forced into the story and are reminiscent of some blockbuster filmmakers’ methods of throwing every character type and plot device into a story in order to satisfy as broad an audience as possible.
Event promises to integrate unusual concepts into an original story, but ultimately devolves into an intermittently entertaining but disappointingly shallow action thriller. A second novel featuring the Event Group is scheduled for a 2007 publication. With one book under his belt, perhaps Golemon will deliver on Event’s promise with the encouragingly titled Legend.
© Arthur Bangs 2007