THE GRAYS (Mania.com)
Review Date: Tuesday, November 27, 2007
When it comes to sci-fi I like my aliens well defined and complex, their culture exotic and wholly different, yet comparable to our own. I like aliens that are part of a fully imagined race, both known and mysterious at the same time. And most importantly, I like aliens that defy stereotype and traditional convention, that rework the norm and put a refreshing spin on the otherworldly Other.
So when I heard about Whitley Strieber’s alien abduction yarn The Grays, even after finding out it’s been picked up for a 2008 theatrical adaptation, I wasn’t that impressed. The idea of reading an entire novel about little gray aliens who’ve been here for decades just didn’t do it for me; hell, it still sounds more like the paper-thin popcorn SF of ‘50s cinema than current genre-worthy material.
But I made a mistake in assuming that The Grays’ tried-and-true premise lacked innovation.
The Grays are a collective of alien species who have been in contact with Earth since the Roswell incident. Small, gray-skinned, and big-eyed, these aliens operate telepathically in groups of threes known as triumvirates and are more machine than organism. In their relentless battle against time they have exchanged their muscles for advanced micro motors and their degenerative-prone brain tissue for neurologically-superior glass filaments. By such augmentation the Grays have slowly traded away the expressiveness of their souls and, as a result, no longer “have access to the emotional universe…the essence of being alive.”
Thus the Grays are attracted to a small blue planet teeming with emotional turmoil: ours. Since their arrival they have been abducting humans to study our gene pool while the US government, though aware of their existence, is powerless to stop such an advanced race. But the Grays’ presence on Earth isn’t solely parasitic.
An impending environmental catastrophe will destroy our planet unless we can work together with the Grays, and our only hope for mutual survival is Connor Callaghan, an 11-year-old boy specially bred for freakish intelligence. With Connor’s brain power and telepathic abilities he will be able to communicate with the collective and solve both species’ problems. The only thing standing in the way of such a plan though is the Trust, a high power military-industrial organization bent on foiling the aliens’ preparations.
Strieber adopts a voyeuristic tone from the very beginning of the novel, offering a dense amount of info while setting up the suspense backbone of this supernatural thriller. The Grays we get to know intimately are a triumvirate known as the Three Thieves, a mischievous and quite creepy bunch who can only be seen as a peripheral blur when they move.
Despite the fast-paced narrative Strieber manages to animate the Grays with the utmost sense of realism, carefully fleshing out their race with a balance of info and omission. The end of the novel, though not carrying the same climactic conclusion as other alien invasion stories, boils down the book’s main thematic elements with unrushed grace.
The Grays is a tale any SF enthusiast will want to check out, but it is also a tale that’s exulted beyond the ordinary by Strieber’s unique punctuations… and I fear those nuances will be the first things to go when this program makes its way to the big screen.
Mania Grade: B+
Author: Whitley Strieber
Publisher: Tor Books