Primortals: Target Earth by Steve Perry
Aspect/Warner Books, 1997
Price I paid: none
Sixty-five million years ago, aliens rescued a handful of promising species from doomed Jurassic Earth. They let them survive on new worlds and evolve into beings and civilizations far older, far wiser―and sometimes far deadlier―than anything we can imagine. Today, one of Earth’s lost descendants is coming home…
Grad student Stewart Davies, working at a minor SETI listening post on Long Island, is the first to intercept the signal. It is not a hoax or an accidental burst of radiation. It reads: “I am Zeerus of Achernar Three…We have much to discuss.” Those words will transform the lives of Stewart Davies and his girlfriend, Jess Rossini; of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Larry Hightower and White House Chief of Staff Laurie Sherman; of NSA specialist Maj. Steve Hayes; and of Jake Holcroft, an eleven-year-old genius on the run from his fanatic father’s underground militia.
For the signal hasn’t come across billions of light years. A starship, carrying one alien, has entered the solar system, approaching Earth. And every old movie and TV show has suddenly become terribly real.
Is Zeerus ambassador or invader? Explorer or fugitive? Can we even understand his motives? What questions should we ask? What answers can we believe? If we don’t want Zeerus on our world, how can we stop him from coming? And if we are wrong about this being’s purpose for visiting, what are the consequences for humankind?
Reading hardcover books means that the jacket copy is SO LONG. That’s like 250 words!
We were doing library inventory when I came across this little gem. You’d think I’d know our science fiction shelves pretty well by this point, but every so often something jumps out at me that I just have to read. This is one of those.
It also belongs in my series on books by Star Trek actors, but that’s debatable. Leonard Nimoy gets a lot of credit in this book. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that he gets a lot of credit on this book. It’s shouted out that this is “Leonard Nimoy’s Primortals” on the front, and the back of the book is just a big old picture of Nimoy himself. He did write the forward to the novel, but apart from that, his input seems to have been maxed out at “Here’s a neat idea I had.”
Of course, this is also true of two of the other Trek actor books I’ve read. Shatner’s entry was clearly written by Ron Goulart, and Michael Dorn (or his publisher) hired the Dexter guy and his wife. All signs do point toward Walter Koenig writing his own book, at least.
On the plus side, Nimoy was at least honest not to say he wrote this. Steve Perry gets the author credit. Isaac freakin’ Asimov also gets credit for helping develop some of the concepts, although it’s never stated what, exactly, those concepts were. I expect Nimoy and Asimov had lunch together one day and Asimov said “Maybe the alien is a dinosaur or something” and then went back to his pierogi.
The novel is a novelization of a comic series from Tekno-Comix, which ran from 1995 to 1997. Oh boy. Nineties comics. Be still, my sarcastic little heart.
The cover image I use is a scan that came from Amazon, hence why it says “Copyrighted material” on it. I couldn’t use my own copy because it has library stuff on the front. Finding a decently hi-rez scan of this cover was difficult. It makes me think that people are actively trying to forget that this book exists.
Nevertheless, it had some interesting things going for it!
The ensemble cast for this novel features a college student who works for SETI part-time, his hot girlfriend, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, his hot girlfriend who is also White House Chief of Staff, an eleven-year-old genius computer hacker, and an NSA agent who is looking for him. Oh, and there’s an alien.
Most of those characters never really meet each other. One gets the feeling that the sequel to this book would have had them all coming together, but, well…
The premise to this book is good, and I want to give it a lot of credit. Plenty of science fiction deals with aliens arriving on Earth, but it’s almost always an unexpected arrival. We find out about the alien(s) when they land in front of the White House, or beam the president out of it, or blow it straight to space-hell. It’s probably one of the most common sf story hooks of all time.
Target Earth, on the other hand, gives us a setup that I’ve never seen before. It’s the story of how people react to an alien, but instead of the alien showing up on somebody’s doorstep and demanding the secret of our Earth bagels, he is instead on the way. In fact, he’s a good six months out. He’s polite enough to let us know first.
The closest thing I can think of to this narrative elsewhere is Carl Sagan’s Contact.
So while this novel has a great premise, one that I’d like to see more of, the rest of it is…oy.
I want to make it clear from the start that I don’t think Steve Perry is a bad writer. Shadows of the Empire was great. It’s just that this book feels like it was written over a weekend, after which he asked for his check and got on with his life.
It’s also hilariously dated. I don’t hold that against the book or its author. In fact, if I were reviewing this book in 1997, I’d probably be discussing how well-researched and up-to-date it was. Of course, I’d also be fourteen.
Oh man, freshman-in-high-school me would have eaten this up.
I had a pretty good idea what I was getting into when I hit page 4. It turns out that one of our heroes, the SETI guy (Stewart), is working on a video game in his spare time. It’s called OmniQue, which I’m not italicizing because the book didn’t. It didn’t italicize the names of any video games. Anyway, the game is described as having
…the best features of Mortal Kombat, Tetris, Myst, and Shadows of the Empire, with maybe a little Darkseed thrown in.
Way to name drop a video game based on your own book, Steve.
And furthermore, what in the living butt would that video game even be like? Jesus Messiah, that’s a disparate list of titles.
Stewart is monitoring the SETI stuff when a signal comes through. Later, he’s the person who translates it before the government does.
The character that elicited the most surprise from me was Jake. Jake is 11 and a genius computer hacker. I may have said that already. Now, I know what you’re thinking. An eleven-year-old genius computer hacker is going to be the most eye-rolling garbage of a character anybody can possibly imagine, right? Well, it turns out that he’s okay, but mostly because he’s as flat as all the other characters in this book. One thing that stood out, though, was when he hacked into a computer terminal at an airport. He did it not by putting his fingers to a keyboard and having magic flow out of them, oh no. He just looked around at the various terminals in the airport until he found one with the username and password taped onto the monitor.
I like that a lot.
Jake’s computer says “What is thy bidding, my master” when he turns it on. It says “I’ll be back” when it turns it off. He is the most extremely eleven-in-the-nineties-and-owns-his-own-computer character ever written.
He had installed Aaron, with its 3D icons, long before the release of the Copeland OS, and he had a 28.8 modem, a laser printer, a scanner, and a Connectix grayscale cam all hooked into his Power Mac.
Hahahaha holy shit.
Again, I’m not making fun of this book for being poorly written (in this case), I’m just loving that it’s SO. GODDAMN. NINETIES.
Want some more? Jake has a little stash of money that his dad doesn’t know about. He earned it by putting shareware fonts up on CompuServe and America Online. This book has no qualms at all about mentioning brand names, which of course dates it even more, but when it brought up two of them, Photoshop and Fontographer, it felt the need to throw in the ™. It never did that with anything else.
Jake has a bank account under the alias “Leonard Jones.” The text states that he chose the name based on actors in his two favorite movies, Star Trek IV and The Empire Strikes Back.
This brings up one of the most clunky aspects of this novel. Why say Star Trek IV? Why not just say Star Trek? It also mentions Leonard Nimoy and James Earl Jones specifically, as though we might miss the reference.
The novel does this all the time. Making sure there’s no chance in hell we’ll miss a reference, explaining jokes, it’s all over the place. At another point in the story somebody says “Feed me, Seymour,” to which the other person looks blankly at them. They clarify by saying it’s from Little Shop of Horrors. They then go on to tell us what, exactly, is the plot of Little Shop of Horrors. It’s awful.
And then there’s a bit where somebody’s watching the TV news. The channel isn’t CNN. It’s MNN. But CNN still exists. It comes up too. The announcer for MNN comes on after a commercial break and says “This…is MNN” and instead of telling us that it’s James Earl Jones, it just broadly hints at it by saying “A voice that sounded like Darth Vader,” or something like that. WTF?
I know I need to get around to the plot eventually. The thing is, there really isn’t much of one. There are some storylines going around parallel to each other, but mostly it’s just waiting around for an alien to show up.
- Stewart and Jess get hired by the government because they broke the alien signal so quickly.
- Jake is on the run from his abusive, paranoid, racist, gun-toting, militia-type father.
- Larry Hightower and Laurie Sherman are boning and trying to keep it a secret, since their boss, the president, won’t like it, despite the fact that they are two consenting unmarried adults.
- Steve Hayes is looking for Jake after Jake does some computer hacking.
One question that I kept asking was why Jake was living with his father in the first place. His mom ran off after some abuse. Why didn’t she take Jake with her? Why have the police not gotten involved? Jake clearly doesn’t belong with him. I mean, I get that there are travesties of justice all the time, often involving children and custody, but the book never once brings this up. It’s just a given that Jake lives with his terrible father after his mom (justifiably) bolted.
The president is a character in this novel, and it does that thing that I find so perplexing whenever the president is involved in some novels. Specifically, we’re never given his name, party affiliation, policies, anything. He’s a completely blank slate. All we know is that he doesn’t like it when unmarried people have consensual sexual relations. I guess this is meant to keep from offending anybody, but it’s bad.
Um, the alien. His name is Zeerus. I constantly read it as zeerust, a term from Douglas Adams’s The Meaning of Liff:
The particular kind of datedness which afflicts things that were originally designed to look futuristic.
It’s a very useful term.
He’s an Avitaur.
Back in the long past, some aliens came to Earth and took some dinosaurs and related species and then put them on a planet and let them evolve. Zeerus is the descendant of some pterodactyl-type things. He’s rebelled against those aliens and has come to Earth to raise an army. The jacket copy makes it seem like it’s unclear whether he’s a good guy or not, but the text is not at all subtle about the fact that he’s a bad guy. He’s also racist against “ape-spawn.”
So he’s on the way, we learn about it, some people start freaking out, and then at the very end of the book he lands and the book ends.
I suppose this was supposed to have a sequel, or perhaps be the beginning of a series. But nope, that didn’t happen. We just get that cliffhanger ending. I guess we’ll just have to read the comics to find out what happens.
Ain’t gonna happen.
If anybody has read these comics, please let me know. I have to know if they’re bad, but I don’t have to know enough to actually look for them myself.
So yeah, that’s the book. It’s not much more than some weird turns-of-phrase, some explained references, some hilariously dated nineties stuff, and some characters that were okay but not great. The characters were the best part, except Zeerus. Even the hacker genius kid was okay, considering how much he had to work against.
I leave you with one question: Why in the hell was this in a library in Knoxville, Tennessee?