Friday, 4 February 2011

Review: The Invaders

The Invaders by Keith Laumer (1967)
The Invaders: Alien beings from a dying planet. Their destination : The Earth. Their purpose: To make it their world. David Vincent has seen them. For him, it began one lost night on a lonely country road looking for a short-cut that he never found. It began with a closed, deserted diner...and a man too long without sleep to continue his journey. It began with the landing of a craft from another galaxy. Now, David Vincent knows that the Invaders are here; that they have taken human form. Somehow, he must convince a disbelieving world that the nightmare has already begun.
 The Invaders (1967) was a true rarity in television history; a truly original series that had an influence far beyond its meager 43-episode run.  It's story of a man who unwittingly discovers a secret plot by aliens to take over the Earth, yet can't find the evidence to convince anyone else of the danger introduced television audiences to something that was new to the medium: Stark, unrelenting paranoia.   David Vincent's one-man war against an inhuman enemy that could be turn out to be anyone, anywhere was a solid break from the more sedate television fare of the day and provided a template for later series such as the X-Files and V.

Like many television series in the days before VCRs, the appetite of fans of the show for more stories was addressed by the issuing of tie-in novels.  In the 1960s, such books based on television series were an uneven lot. Some, such as Jame Blish's Star Trek books were boiled down versions of the television episodes.  Others were pastiches that could have been turned into screenplays.  Others were hack jobs that bore almost no resemblance to the source material.  Keith Laumer's two Invaders novels were a peculiar departure.  Instead of taking the usual paths, Laumer reinvented the television format to suit the printed page and introduced, I suspect, story elements that he'd been nursing for one of his own novels.

In the television version, David Vincent is an architect who becomes involved when he accidentally witnesses a spaceship landing.  The aliens come from a dying world and are preparing the path for their eventual takeover.  In their human form they are almost undetectable except for small giveaways such as a malformed little finger or (in black aliens) the palms being black.  Vincent's fight with them is a shadow war of the Invaders trying to remain undetected while Vincent tries to draw them into the public spotlight.

In Laumer's version, Vincent is an engineer who, while acting as a consultant, notices strange components being manufactured at factories across the United States.  As he collects the components and tries to fit them together, Vincent discovers that they form a ray gun with enough power to literally set off a volcano.  As in the series, the Invaders are infiltrating human society, but not very successfully because they are putty-faced creatures that can barely pass for human.  The reason they're so secretive is because they aren't the advance guard, but rather the sole survivors of the Great Race after their planet was destroyed a million years ago.  Numbering only a thousand, they must exterminate the human race quickly and with only limited resources if they are to survive.  Vincent's war with them isn't the slow intrigue of the television, but rather of Vincent and the Invaders repeatedly swapping the roles of hunter and hunted as Vincent tracks down the aliens before they can find him.

The plots are also much more action oriented and elaborate than on television with Vincent battling aliens who are bioengineered supermen and especially against Vincent's nemisis the alien Dorn, who survives repeated and fiery defeats at Vincent's hands.  The novel is broken into three episodes starting with Vincent's discovery of the aliens, to his battle with Dorn in the booby trapped house of a madman, and Vincent's thwarting of the Invader's grand coup.  All the while Laumer instills a sense of urgency as we follow an increasingly battered, exhausted, and shabby David Vincent who must defeat his enemy before his own meager resources run out.

Out of print since its original publication in 1967, The Invaders is a neat little gem that doesn't disappoint, but is doomed to die the death of copyright as the remaining copies succumb to the acid in their cheap paperback pages.  Let's hope someone has the foresight to make a digital scan before then.

1 comment:

  1. I still have paperback that I purchased new. The pages are yellowing and brittle. I shall scan them before they disappear in a red glow. :)