Author: Christopher Steinsvold
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Medallion Press
What Goodreads has to say:
2016 Silver Medal for the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
What I have to say:
"In essence, the universe is an exquisitely efficient and maximally elegant, ego-crunching machine. That is what it does."I read this shortly after experiencing an ego-crunch myself, so it felt very true.
The Book of Ralph is an extremely enjoyable, well-paced adventure peppered with sly humor that sometimes feels a little Douglas Adams-ish (that's a word, I just invented it). There's definitely an Adams feel behind the line quoted above. And other things, like the fact that the evil aliens happen to be from the planet Kardash and are thus "Kardashians" are reminiscent of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy humor.
But on the whole, The Book of Ralph steers clear of just being a tribute to Hitchhiker's Guide, or to any other work of science fiction, for that matter. It's fresh, original, and imaginative. In fact, it's set up in such a way that it kind of messes with your expectations.
The story begins when an inexplicable message appears on the moon during a solar eclipse. The message reads: "Drink Diet Coke." Markus - our protagonist - is hired to head up an investigation, ultimately finding that Coca-Cola was not behind the message. This makes him extremely unpopular.
So this is going to be a clever, comic sci-fi story, I'm thinking at this point. The writing is great: very clean in the sense that it reads easy and it's clever. I'm enjoying it vastly.
Fast forward a bit, and we have our first contact with an extraterrestrial. Ralph (the alien in question) is hilarious and adorable and I love everything about him. At this point, it's still a very funny story. But all that's about to change.
Through a series of disastrous events which none of the main characters could reasonably have foreseen, some prominent people die and it looks like the earth is going to be invaded by evil aliens (yes, these are the Kardashians).
Suddenly everything's dark and scary and we're faced with the threat of the end of civilization as we know it. Where the heck did this come from? Wasn't this supposed to be a cute, tongue-in-cheek story about an alien with an Andy Warhol fetish?
Not quite. Or rather, yes, it was supposed (air quotes) to be about that, but that was probably just a ploy to lull us into a false sense of security or something. At any rate, what we have on our hands now is a serious discussion of good and evil, hatred, envy, violence, the ego, and humanity.
We're still rooting for Ralph, but whereas before we were rooting for him to seize the day, upset the status quo, and possibly have sex with the president, now we're rooting for him to save the earth from imminent destruction without dying in the process.
It's well done, because the tone change doesn't feel jarring as you're reading. Or rather, it feels a little jarring in the way it would if you were hanging out with an adorable alien one minute, then facing the threat of total destruction from a hostile race of extraterrestrials the next. But that's just good storytelling.
There's also a lot to think about - Markus and Ralph have some pretty deep philosophical talks around the middle of the book, and those parts are also well done. In particular, my concepts of hate and envy have probably changed after hearing Ralph's explanations of the two feelings. I've also gained more insight into the ego and why it's actually a good thing that the universe keeps crunching mine.
Then, like most good science fiction stories, there's a plot twist. And of course there's a moment where the fate of humanity depends on the actions of the main characters, and someone has to make a sacrifice.
I'm enthusiastic about this book. I wanted to like it, and I did. The author does a great job portraying and developing his alien characters - well, mainly Ralph, since he's the only alien we really get close to. Ralph isn't just a guy from another planet who has two heads or is green or something; he's really, completely, alien. But, incredibly, he seems more human than any actual human. And you can connect with him on a level you can't with another human.
Still, when I finished this book, I was left wanting something more. It's not that the book wasn't well-written, because it was - clever and engaging and psychologically deep - I just didn't feel profoundly changed by it, and that's what I want out of a really good science fiction novel.
After reading over my review, I realize the book did change the way I think about certain concepts, and now I feel like I'm just being a jerk about this whole thing. It's a fun story. I enjoyed it. I loved Ralph, and I loved reading his book.
Also I'm going to give a disclaimer here letting you know that there's some swearing in this book, like mainly the F word. If you're like, why the heck do I need to know that, Erin? just ignore this. If you're like, thanks I don't want to read a book that has the F word in it, you're welcome.