We in the monster biz can spot monsters a mile away. It doesn’t matter if they’re wearing socks made of Cervelt fibre or drinking small batch whiskey from Japan—monsters can’t hide from us.
Conversely, we also know when monsters aren’t really monsters. Take for example all ETs and ALFs. They may look weird to us, but on their home planets they’re a part of an inclusive homogenized community.
Using this as our guide, Peter Davison’s Book of Alien Monsters isn’t a book about monsters at all. It’s a first-contact anthology featuring interplanetary sentient beings. In other words, it’s a slim storybook of culture differences, biology and life experience.
But I quibble. The nine short stories in this collection are filled with an assortment of quirky otherworldly creatures who make Earthicans tremble. Call them monsters if you like. I don’t mind.
Also: Seven of the nine stories in this book feature the adventures of a young protagonist. If I had to guess, I’d say the target readership here is somewhere south of early adolescence. Since I’m older than 10, I had to adjust my expectations with each new story. It’s hard to imagine an adult being entertained by Allan Scott’s “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” for example.
Even with these caveats, sitting down with Peter Davison’s Book of Alien Monsters isn’t a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon (btw: If you didn’t know, editor Davison was the fifth actor to portray Dr. Who in the long-running TV show).
Two of Davison’s top picks deal with self-identity and/or freewill—the perfect subjects for kids racing toward puberty. “Beyond Lies the Wub” by Philip K. Dick is an amusing story of instinct and survival. The wub is a 400-pound pig-like animal with no discernible way to defend itself in the wild. “We are a very old race,” says the wub. “Very old and very ponderous. Too heavy to run, too soft to fight, too good-natured to hunt for game.” The author patiently waits until the very last sentence to reveal how the wub survives from generation to generation.
David Langford’s “Semolina,” is about an alien creature on a mission from Galactic Central to observe the human race. Fair enough. I’m sure mankind is already being studied by covert extraterrestrials. In fact, judging by the way it looks at me, my neighbor’s “dog” is probably on an intergalactic undercover assignment at this very moment.
Semolina (the cosmic spy, not the pot of spaghetti) is on the case, but it needs to possess a mobile host to do an effective job. It can’t make a detailed report to its superiors by inhabiting a bowl of pudding or a bucket of marbles. The resolution isn’t a surprise, but it’s shockingly heartless for its intended youthful audience.
[Peter Davison’s Book of Alien Monsters / Edited by Peter Davison / First Printing: January 1982 / ISBN: 978099283003]