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Cowboys & Aliens by Joan D. Vinge

1/09/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Cowboys & Aliens in the USA - or Buy Cowboys & Aliens in the UK

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pub: TOR-UK. 369 page small enlarged paperback. Price: GBP 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4472-0211-0.

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As I haven’t read the original comicbook or, obviously, not seen the film at the time of writing this review, all I can go by is the novelisation of ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, which is getting a lot of press PR at the moment.

Cross-mixing genres isn’t new. Mixing westerns and Science Fiction has been done since the 60s, although usually with characters brought in who know what to do and goad the local population to do something. With ‘Cowboys & Aliens’, the local population is on its own and has to face off an alien species that has landed and systematically abducting them. Only they haven’t quite got to the town of Absolution yet so things are going on quite as they have done before. They even have an amnesic wounded drifter come to town with a decorative bracelet on his wrist that turns out to be the key as to what is going on. Turns out he was abducted but escaped and is also a wanted man by his own people. Ultimately, a pecking order is established and they seek to oust the aliens before any more people are taken.

Saying much more about the plot would probably be in spoiler territory. Novelisations tend to be written when the film is in production with the author having limited access to anything but an early script. Author Joan Vinge also points out in the introduction that she was also allowed to do certain embellishments to give a bit more depth to the characters and the Native American culture. It wasn’t difficult to work out which character Daniel Craig was playing but I was left guessing as to which of two characters was played by Harrison Ford. No doubt those of you picking up the book after watching the film will flesh that out in your own heads.

From a writing perspective and familiar with Vinge’s earlier work, I did wonder about the lack of empathy for the characters’ plight which seemed a bit off when any were killed. Whether this is because life is cheap in the old West or making the deadline is hard to say. Vinge goes through the motions but it doesn’t sink in that deeply. Whether the same can be said of the film only you can tell at this stage.

Oddly, for a novelisation, there is no photo inserts inside the book which is a shame because this is often seen as an additional selling point to make you want to buy a copy.

I’m of two minds about this book for many reasons. Westerns, as a genre, haven’t been particularly strong for a few decades now. Whether new Science Fiction fans will get or understand the western trope clichés is hard to say. The older generation probably will and it’ll be a lucky guess as to if 19th century armaments taking on aliens will look realistic against advanced technology. It’s a weird balancing act so the film and novelisation will either be very big or fade into the sunset. Your choice, pardner.

GF Willmetts

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This book has 7 votes in the sci-fi charts

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