Friday, January 24, 2014


by Larry Niven

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Footfall is an Independence Day (the movie) type book, about an alien invasion and a wide range of humans across the globe reacting to said invasion. I'm sure you've seen Independence Day and I hope you didn't like it because it sucked. but have you seen Mars Attacks? now that is a great alien invasion film. smart and hilarious. Footfall is much better than Independence Day but it is a far cry from Mars Attacks.

the first thing you should know about Footfall is that the aliens in question who are invading, sometimes slaughtering, and in general causing mass havoc across the earth look like baby elephants. that is fucking ingenious!

the second thing you should know about Footfall is that it features a bizarre and hilariously bad and hilariously awesome scene where some rural homespun types, a big city politician, some Soviet astronauts, and the baby elephant alien invaders screen and then discuss that classic film Deep Throat. what Deep Throat means about sex, about relations between the genders, about morality, and of course about whether anyone really gives blow jobs. then the whole thing degenerates into a hysterical argument about 'just us folks' types vs. 'big city feller' types and then the American way vs. the communist way. finally the baby elephants get frustrated and tell the humans that when they are in control, the humans will be able to live by their own rules - but the rules better be consistent and the humans better actually follow them. I literally could not believe what I was reading! that scene is a timeless classic.

I started off the review by comparing the book to a crappy mass-produced Hollywood special effects extravaganza because the issues of those kinds of products certainly plague Footfall. maybe because it was written by two authors, there is a certain blandness and an annoying repetitiousness to its writing. the prose, if you can call it that, is smooth and polished and utterly workmanlike. it indulges in all of the stereotypical character types of your typical lame Hollywood action movie. most of the ladies need to be rescued. most of the guys are strong and upright and dependable. there are annoying jerks who get what they deserve (especially that reporter, ha!) and there are wacky eccentrics who turn out to be heroic, of course. the Russians are often described as having 'crafty peasant' looks, which I did not know was a thing. everyone is white, white, white. after a while, I grew really weary of the humans and if this novel was all about that species, overall this would have been a tedious disappointment.

but then there are the baby elephants! Niven and Pournelle really outdid themselves on these aliens. fascinating, well-developed, by turns threatening and sympathetic, just beautifully rendered and utterly alien creations. a far cry from aliens who are basically humans in alien drag. these baby elephants turned Footfall into an often delightful and fascinating experience. and they are given vaguely Thai or Khmer names, which added a lot of color (cough) to their characterizations and which made it an odd experience to read while traveling around Cambodia. my companion was really disappointed that I was reading an alien invasion novel to fall asleep to after a whole day exploring Angkor ruins, but hey I'm a prosaic kind of guy.

I've had this book since I was a kid and I'm not sure why I took so long to read it. it is an 80s style book, so it has one of those 80s fold-out covers:

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that cover mesmerized me. but I think it also disturbed young mark monday because there was something so sympathetic about that alien. and so I avoided the book until now. here's a close-up of that image:

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those humans look quite threatening. the alien looks intriguing, like someone I'd like to sit down and have some coffee with. plus check out his little backpack! and that mirror to spy on threatening humans. and that teddy bear! adorable. I hope he didn't take that off of a slaughtered human because that would be rather a bummer. let's just assume he found it somewhere and decided to keep it. aww!

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