Saucer Hill by Paul Adler
Avon Books, 1979
Price I paid: 75¢
They came from the faraway planet of Azydia. They took Bianca, the only woman Alfons ever loved. But what did they offer? Invasion, salvation, or doom?
High in a tree house above a world of maddened car racers, mass suicide, and hardly any air, Alfons can only wonder, and wait…
FOR THE RETURN OF THE FLYING SAUCERS!
EVERY WORD OF THAT COVER IS LIES
Okay maybe not every word. There was a flying saucer mentioned. And a woman named Bianca, whom Alfons did in fact love but she wasn’t the only woman. They are never actually seen or heard from in the book except for the last page.
Alfons does live in a treehouse, I guess, but the “world of maddened car racers” just came out of nowhere. Mass suicide? Nope. Hardly any air? Okay they got one out of three.
The cover of this book, though, is pretty great. We’ve got Jesus, Space Jesus, and Woman Jesus. Alternately they’re Cesare Borgia, Ricardo Montalban, and Mary Jane Watson.
The inside of the book was a combination of Earthchild and Buck Alice and the Actor-Robot, which is to say I had little to no idea what was going on at any point because it was all “zany” and “random” and “deep.”
It was zany in the way a Chinese bootleg ripoff of Tom and Jerry is zany.
It was random in the way a teenage girl with her glasses on upside-down is “SO RANDOM!”
And it was deep in the way that a stoned college student is deep, meandering on about how maybe cats and dogs don’t get along because meows are dog cuss words and barks are cat cuss words and the only language they have in common is growling and dude I’m hungry let’s order a pizza.
It was just awful.
Our hero of the book is Anton Alfons or Alfons Anton or something. I forget what order those words go in. He is referred to by one of those names interchangeably.
Whatever his name is, he lives on a stretch of land, in a tree, where he waits for the return of a flying saucer (SINGULAR) that has taken away Bianca, a girl he once loved. The land he lives on used to belong to her father, a guy named Populi, but that guy’s dead and his commune or whatever burned to the ground.
In his spare time, Anton treats a deck of playing cards like tarot cards and kills people.
It’s pretty casual about the fact that he’s a murderer. He doesn’t seem to mind very much. The people he kills are a member of some modern religion, called the Sadoos, and while the Sadoos are mentioned every twenty pages or so, we’re never told what their religion is.
So Anton just cold murders these people and he gets caught. A large part of the book is about his adventures in the modern penal system.
Oh, when I say modern, perhaps I should say ULTRAMODERN, because this book takes place in the far-flung future world of 1999!
So, let’s talk about 1999. The world has gone to crap. The water is so polluted that there are very few fish left. The air is so polluted that there is very little oxygen left. Seriously, oxygen is like a vital resource now. Poor people die because they can’t afford oxygen. The president at one point is described as considering switching the backing of American currency to the oxygen standard. Cars are pretty much electric now but one is described as running on peat moss. A presidential term lasts seven years and there is no term limit. The current president, Immanuel Chin, is currently on his fifth term and has stated that he intends to keep running until he dies or gets voted out.
There’s more but dammit.
So Anton’s story keeps flashing back and forth between the present, where he’s on trial for murder, and the past, where he did…stuff. He dated a girl named Titiane. He drove his car. He talked with people. He got Bianca pregnant and she had the baby right before she disappeared. She took the baby with her.
In the present, his trial is being some kind of madhouse where nothing makes any sense. He keeps getting asked about things that have nothing to do with the trial itself. They do set up backstory and reasons to randomly cut into flashbacks with absolutely no warning or acknowledgement.
At one point Anton’s bail is posted. It’s something like five million dollars. It turns out it got posted by the Sadoo church. No reason for this turn of events is given and there’s no reference to it afterward.
He hangs out (in the present) with two young lovers who move onto Populi’s land with him. They have some adventures.
At some point a dead tree sprouts an apple. Later, bananas. This is reflected upon and never mentioned again.
Anton plays basketball with a guy in prison. He has a flashback to a time when Bianca’s then-boyfriend, a champion boxer, taught him how to box and gave him a multiple-page monologue about being defensive. This is never mentioned again.
If you haven’t caught on yet, nothing in this book mattered to any other part of the book. Things just happened. And they aren’t even just regular things. I could kind of understand it if unlikely-but-possible occurrences happened every so often and were later dismissed. Maybe we’d have yet another failed attempt at writing like James Joyce. But no, some of the events were outright miraculous, like the bananas on the dead apple tree.
At about page 130 of 200 we get some kind of event that might shed some light on the situation. Or so I thought. It was momentous enough that it might bring some unity and cohesion to the narrative. Maybe explain the overall theme of the book a little. Cast some light on what the crap I’m supposed to be reading. Change my mind about how this entire book has been a waste of one evening, three bus rides, and a lunch break.
Jesus shows up and fails to do any of those things.
Yeah, that Jesus. The King of Kings. The Lord Almighty. The Messiah. The Alpha and the Omega. The Chairman of the Board.
Jesus shows up in Washington, D.C., right on the White House lawn. He’s twenty feet tall and says He’s an alien. People are inclined to believe Him. The Great Emperor of the Galaxies, the one we call God, YHWH, Allah, is His dad. Jesus has come back again to pass judgement.
The judgement, He says, is to see how many people have learned what we’re supposed to learn in the 2000 years since He was last here. Those who figured it out will be allowed to move on to the next grade. Those who fail will have to repeat a year.
What he doesn’t say is what any of that actually means. He shows up on TV once a day and just sits there, smiling, maybe meditating or something, for an hour, and everybody in the world tunes in every day because honestly, if Jesus turned out to be real and came back, wouldn’t you?
This goes on for a while until one day the president comes on the television and explains that he’s got it figured out. The BIG SIN we’ve all been commiting and that Space Jesus is going to be most upset about is WASTING TIME. Time is precious and every wasted moment is a sin in the eyes of God.
HOW IRONIC FOR YOU TO SAY THAT TO ME, BOOK
HOW IRONIC INDEED
Jesus says yeah, that’s basically it, but He’s not going to be the one to pronounce judgment. That’s up to each and every one of us. Look deep within yourselves, He says, and decide if you’re guilty or not.
(Meanwhile, Anton is on trial for triple homicide. It jumps back and forth.)
One day, the whole world skips forward three hours. It just jumps from one o’clock to four o’clock and everybody’s confused for a bit, but they figure Space Jesus, in His ineffable wisdom, did it to teach us a lesson. We just have to figure out what it is.
At one point a group of people decide they want to declare war on Jesus, so they get some tanks and lasers and stuff and try to shoot at Him. Jesus has a force field and He’s fine.
Jesus then just disappears. Hops in His spaceship and leaves.
One of the very, very, few things I liked about this book was how spot-on its treatment of the media was. While Space Jesus was around the media was all about how amazing this was and The Bible is Right and Praise His Name. Then when he just up and disappears they’re all Jesus Sucks and He’s Not the Real Jesus He’s an Alien Impostor and The People Who Shot Him Are the Real Heroes.
After all this happens YOU GUESSED IT
Anton is found guilty of triple murder and sentenced to the death penalty. In the far future world of 1999, the death penalty is humane and quick. You are Sounded to death. High intensity soundwaves, accelerated to nearly the speed of light (THAT DOESN’T MAKE A LICK OF SENSE) pierce your brain, heart, and genitals. WHY THE GENITALS
Oh, the book gets a little technobabbly about how all that works but the best thing is that the soundwaves that kill you are actually extrapolated from your favorite song. I honestly like that a lot.
Death row inmates in 1999 are sent not to jail but to a luxury resort with great food and all the oxygen you can breathe. They have golf courses and the prison guards are attractive women who have sex with the inmates to keep them happy. Once you’re on death row, you’re set for life.
The death row luxury resort is, incidentally, protected by an antigravity wall. Just so you know. 1999.
Anton’s life is winding down to his execution date. He’s having lots of very explicit unsatisfying sex with a woman named Wilhelmina. At some point he gets told that he won’t be executed at all, since the president has been killed and there’s now some kind of ruling junta comprised of the people who shot Jesus and so the courts are in disarray. Also the judge that convicted him has been himself convicted of gross incompetence. So he’s celebrating this and he’s falling in love with Wilhelmina when the flying saucer finally shows up.
It’s a foggy night and there’s a prison break going on for some reason all around him, but that doesn’t matter because Alfons gets beamed aboard the flying saucer and meets his daughter, Anne. Apparently Bianca is still back on Azydia.
Anne explains that the reason it took so long to come back and get him is because he needed to make a new baby for Earth to replace Anne, whom they took away with Bianca.
AND THE BOOK ENDS LITERALLY RIGHT THERE.
i’m so sorry
This book was an enormously pretentious train wreck of a half-crocked “science fiction” novel. That’s the best praise I can give it.
Either that or, and I’m willing to admit this, I just didn’t get it. That’s a possibility.
The good folks at the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction say that the author of this book, Paul Adler, was actually a pseudonym for a guy named Peter Edler, who in turn had one other book. They say that this book is a satire on religion. Let’s approach it from those terms.
Jesus shows up, hangs around for about a quarter of the book, and then disappears, never to be mentioned again in the narrative.
That makes it a pretty poor satire on religion, if you ask me. The rest of the book has nothing to do with religion. Sometimes it has to do with the nature of loneliness or with what love actually is or how crappy the far flung future world of 1999 will be if we don’t change our ways, but it’s not a satire on religion.
So what was it? I bet we can figure this out.
It was pretty much stream-of-consciousness. I can say that. Past and present mingled a lot in ways that were disconcerting but probably intentionally so. After all, Jesus came to teach us that Wasting Time is a Bad Thing, so there’s probably some kind of commentary on that there. A lot of Anton’s flashbacks are of him doing just that, and he never comments on that after the big revelation is made. He just goes on doing what he’s doing.
I don’t think Anton is supposed to be a sympathetic character, now that I think about it. He’s immature, he’s clearly somewhat insane, and he’s hardly aware of the world around him. He has delusions of grandeur and thinks he’s a lot smarter than he really is. He’s a triple murderer. And yet good things, sometimes outright magical things, just keep happening to him.
Hmm, I’m going to have to think about this.
I’d be really interested if anyone else has read this book and might have some insight. I feel like maybe, just maybe, there’s something I’m missing and that’s why I really don’t like it. Maybe it’s my fault, is what I’m saying.
But I really doubt it.