Thursday, July 12, 2012

Name of Alt, by Kevin A. Kierstead

I'm going to start this by saying that Name of Alt is a terrible book. Now I know what you're thinking, "But Kalpar!" you're probably exclaiming, "That is indeed a serious statement to make about a book. And you can't expect us to just take your word for it, you're not Levar Burton! Where are your facts?" Thank you, kind and gentle readers for continuing to hold me to the high standards we have here at the Arsenal. Well...some standards. You know what I mean. To summarize the plot of Name of Alt : an alien called Alt (and his "pet", Khan) has crash-landed on Earth and has decided to make first contact with the humans. This decision is partially spurred by his need for a handful of liquids and metals to repair his ship, but also partly by his desire to perform a good deed for humanity. To me it seemed like an interesting enough premise. 

The major problem with this book was its structure; pretty much all of this book is a narration by Alt which constantly shifts between topics and its segues are about as fluid as a brick wall. Alt is continually introducing us to and pontificating upon a topic, suddenly shifting to another topic tangentially related to the original topic, and then when he's finished pontificating on the tangent he'll suddenly shift back to his original topic. I want to say this was in imitation of Douglas Adams's style with the Hitchhiker's Guide series but Name of Alt simply doesn't come even close to mastering the segues and effortlessly shifting between tangents. Another recurring issue I had was that Alt would continually introduce new topics and say, "I'll tell you more about that soon." Sometimes "soon" is two paragraphs later, sometimes it's two chapters. Either way it just further hindered the already rocky transitions and made the narrative of this book harder to follow. On top of that there were a handful of topics that are briefly touched upon by the narrator and I was left with the impression that we would return to these topics and expand on their significance, but we never return to those topics. For example, Alt mentions that his crashing on this planet was no accident and his navigational computer was in all probability disabled by other malicious aliens. Do we ever come back to ask who those malicious aliens might be or why they'd want Alt stranded on our little rock? Nope! All of these factors made the book feel extremely poorly planned and lacking structure. 

There's also a few plot holes that really bugged me in this book. The first was that Alt is "stuck" here on Earth and, as I mentioned, needs some materials to repair his computer. However, Alt reveals that another race of aliens, known as the Usoas, are living at the bottom of Earth's oceans and are known to Alt's people and a number of other alien races. So....why doesn't Alt ask the Usoas for the materials? I'm pretty sure they could help him. Oh...he wants to make first contact with the humans? But...time is of the essence for him to get home? Speaking of the Usoas, apparently they've been fighting an on-again, off-again war with these aliens known as the Intruders who want to eat the humans and steal all the water. The water bit's kind of necessary for the Usoas, and I guess they took a liking to us so they've been defending us. Alt says that the Usoas have been fighting this war mostly on their own. Except there are also the Greys, if you don't recognize the name I'll show you a picture and you'll probably recognize them. 
Yeah, those guys. Anyway, apparently they hang out around Earth a lot and in addition consider themselves the moral guardians of the universe and, according to Alt, always rush to help defend fellow aliens being attacked by malevolent forces. So...why didn't the Greys help the Usoas? I assume they'd be in the neighborhood and it's pretty clear the Intruders were kind of the bad guys, what with stealing the water from Earth. So...why weren't the Greys involved? A final major plot hole I remember is Alt mentions that his species, the Douze, have this cloning technology that lets you basically beam copies of people places Star Trek style. Alt says that they've shared some of this technology with the Greys but the Douze haven't shared all of it because there's more than a 5% chance the Greys will use it against them in a military capacity. The same Greys who he had previously stated were the self-appointed moral guardians of the universe and never attacked another alien species unless that species was going around getting into people's business with guns and so on. So how, in the how many thousands of years the Douze and Greys have known each other, have the Greys given any indication that they're going to randomly attack the Douze? Well if the Greys ever did we're certainly never told about it. 

Another running problem I had with this book was its apparent inability to grasp facts. For example, Alt and his friend Khan state that evolution is a myth and creatures only change because of their environment and their ability to adapt to it. actually part of the forces of evolution. Listen, I'm nowhere close to being an expert on evolution but I asked a friend who is and she said that at least part of evolution comes down to how creatures are able to survive in their environment. It's a little more complicated than that, what with random versus non random breeding and a couple other things but a creature's ability to survive in its environment is a big part of it. So what the author is basically doing is explaining aspects of evolution and then claiming that it's not evolution it's...something else. I can call a pepperoni pizza whatever I want but if we're both talking about a flat piece of bread covered in tomato sauce, cheese, and pepperoni slices then we're talking about the same thing, regardless of whatever label I choose to ascribe to it. 

And the issues did not end there. I figure if you're reading this there's a good chance you've heard of that Jesus Christ fellow. (If you haven't well...he was an itinerant preacher about 2000 years ago. We think.) Anyway, according to Alt Jesus was actually the result of the Greys deciding to mix their DNA with human DNA just to see what happened. And apparently, when you mix Grey DNA with ours you get magical healing powers. Which you know, that's not a really big deal for me because I'm not offended by the idea that many of our gods were actually aliens. I might think it a little silly, but I'm not offended. What really frustrates me about Alt's whole delving into this topic is his claim that Jesus's overall goal was to help stimulate human learning and the development of technology which is "proven" by how far we've come technologically from 1 to 2000 CE opposed to 2000 to 1 BCE. Because, you know, it's not like any organization affiliated with Jesus Christ has ever actively repressed scientific learning in the past or continues to do so now. That'd just be ridiculous, right?

If I haven't convinced my dear reader by now that this book is terribly flawed, let me finish with one final paragraph. Throughout this entire book I got this feeling from Alt that he's a, for lack of a better term, elitist douchebag asshole. Alt is constantly pontificating on various subjects and acting like he's a subject on astrophysics, biology, history, human psychology, and practically every other subject under the sun, but he's so clearly not. Instead of coming off as a wise traveler who's sharing a little wisdom and perspective for humanity Alt comes off as a college freshmen who took one semester of philosophy and that somehow has given him a unique insight into everything like he's the next goddamned Socrates. And I'd accept that, I'd be willing to accept that just because he can fly across galaxies Alt thinks he knows better about everything, but I got really offended by one thing he said. Alt claimed that two-thirds of all law enforcement officials are in some way corrupt and we'd be better off without both law enforcement and laws altogether. Quite frankly that's offensive and bullshit. I don't know many police officers personally, and I'm aware that police in some countries are no better than another gang, but here in the United States most police officers are probably nice people. Are there corrupt jackasses who get on the force? Yeah, but you get that everywhere. As far as I'm concerned police officers are normal people just like the rest of us, certainly with their own foibles, but not objectively bad people. Claiming that fully two out of three are corrupt is highly misinformed and offensive to the dignity of a very dangerous and largely thankless job. Furthermore, to claim that humans should do away with laws altogether is, again, misinformed. Maybe Alt's society has advanced to a point where they don't need laws to keep the social fabric from falling apart, but humans are definitely not at that level. Maybe it's my own Lawful alignment coming out, but pretty much all of current political theory at least acknowledges the need for a clear code of laws for the common well-being of the people. (Anarchism of course being the exception.) To claim that something so fundamentally necessary for the continued operation of our society is pointless implies to me that the speaker clearly has no idea how human society works at all. 

Overall, this is a bad book, I did not care for it and hopefully I provided sufficient explanation why in the paragraphs above. 

- Kalpar  


  1. The author sounds like a crazy alien conspiracy anarchist who is WAY too much a Star Trek fan. Grant it, I like Star Trek (TNG, DS9 is growing on me), but I don't buy into Roddenberry's ideal universe. I have huge problems with his sexual ethics and views on marriage and religion (which, incidentally, I consider related). It is a nice story but I would not consider it food for thought or a basis for philosophical or political thought.
    Anyway, you have provide sufficient evidence that this book sucks.

  2. I'm the author. While I always appreciate constructive criticism, this rant was uninformed and in most cases, just sounded like the writer didn't read the work.

    First of all, I have four books for sale that are selling well, including Name of Alt. You wanted some standardized form of story-telling that you don't get with Alt; do you really think Alt would THINK anything like humans, say nothing of knowing their literary preferences? Toss that about inside your brain pan for a minute.

    I'll be doing a radio show on your review as well as that first comment above, and I hope there are many more comments so we can really make this lively.

    Now, people will tell you that the first rule of authorship is not to let bad reviews bother you. While I've only had a few, I haven't let them bother me. What bothers me is WRONG reviews, uninformed reviews--reviews that do not see the picture presented... rather, just the colors that they don't like.

    In any case, if you purchased the book, I thank you but suggest you return it if possible. If you'd like to hear what I have to say about you and your review, make sure to go to BlogTalkRadio and search for Truth on Tap. I'll be doing the show at 11:00 pm EST on Tuesday (the Tuesday shows are called, "Tuesday Tard-day") and live call-ins and chats are welcome. Yes, you can be live on the air to defend yourself. Novel concept in today's hit-n-run-critic mentality, no? Hope to see you there.

  3. With all due respect I think we're just going to have to agree to disagree. Obviously you spent a lot of time and effort on your book and so you've got a lot invested in it. And to be fair, my review is rather harsh but I still stand by the core points that I made. I'm glad your books are doing well and I hope you continue to enjoy your work, I'm just sorry I didn't enjoy this novel.