I have a soft spot for books that deal in tropes that don’t conform to reader expectation. After all, I wrote a whole book about zombies where never a brain is eaten. The Spaceship Next Door, therefore, hooked me early on with a great twist on one trope, before throwing in a second for free along the way.
The hook is this – one night a spaceship from another planet lands in rural Massachusetts. Then – nothing happens. There’s no alien invasion. There’s no dire warning about what we’re doing to the planet, ala The Day the Earth Stood Still. There’s not even a massive overreaction by the government, although the town of Sorrow Falls essentially succumbs to a velvet-glove version of martial law. Mostly, the ship just sits there and makes people wonder what the hell is going on.
Three years after landing, something finally does happen.
Much like the ship, the book isn’t in too much of a hurry to get to that thing. Some will complain that this makes the book slow, but I think it’s time well spent with 16-year old Annie Collins, who is kind of the town’s goodwill ambassador to the outside world. She’s given the task for shepherding around a “reporter” (actually a government scientist – he fools nobody), which allows us not only to meet a bunch of characters, but dive deep into the history of Sorrow Falls. To the book’s credit, this doesn’t result in a whole bunch of characters who are nothing more than walking quirks. They all seem real, if a bit off.
I should mention the second trope, because it’s what pops up when things start happening. In a word – zombies. Except, really, they’re not. But they behave kind of like zombies (no brain eating!). Annie and her government guy even have a funny conversation where they try to come up with a better term, but nothing really works. Besides, the zombies tie back in to what the ship is doing (naturally), which lets the book continue its twisty way with first contact stories.
The Spaceship Next Door isn’t perfect. The ending gets a little jumbled and there’s a bit of hand waving at the final post (one of the final chapters is tilted “Deus Ex Machina,” so it’s not like you aren’t warned). Even in light of that, it’s a quick, fun read with a couple of really good laughs sprinkled in. If you like your tropes a little twisted, I highly recommend this one.