Monitors of Mayhem
by Darleen Hayball Johnson
Greenberry Publishing

"Some pilots communicated the situation from a distance, but most who could see the explosion were doomed."

Ann and Tim thought their new neighbors were odd. Gabriel and Ruth had a strange accent, which for California with its burgeoning immigrant population was not unusual in itself, but they also seemed to be completely clueless when it came to some of the basic things that almost every adult should know. For instance, why would anyone who supposedly came from the Santa Barbara area need to be told what ham and cheese were? But when Gabriel came over and told them that he and Ruth were actually aliens living inside human bodies they had appropriated from two terminally ill people and then fixed, Ann knew their neighbors’ oddity must actually be madness—that is, until she held Gabriel’s hand and suddenly learned the truth.

In a novel that deftly blends the classic science fiction themes of aliens living among us and post-apocalyptic survival, Johnson’s story deals with a race of squid-like extraterrestrials who have been resident observers among mankind for a very long time. The monitors have recently increased their presence to observe the imminent fall of human civilization. The cause of the crash is a massive volcanic eruption in Yellowstone—a periodic event that last took place over 600,000 years ago—which will not only destroy millions in its initial blast but will also propel enough toxic ash into the atmosphere to blanket the globe, creating massive crop failures, pollution, food shortages, and, eventually, the death of billions. Will those that remain of the human species then descend into anarchy, or will they work to band together and survive? Enquiring alien minds want to know.

Intriguing and thought-provoking, the author’s story is as much about the reactions of both the humans and the aliens to their individual situations during the crisis as it is about the disaster itself. For example, once she becomes aware of what the aftermath of the eruption will entail, Ann, a former school teacher, takes everything in stride. She responds to the challenge mankind faces with all of the logic, creativity, and fervor one would expect from a dedicated educator, such as coming up with a plan to teach children and their parents in the area about the danger of the falling ash. Ruth and Gabriel, on the other hand, must come to terms with the emotional and physical sensations they have unwittingly acquired with their new bodies. They also must learn to adapt to the strange customs of their human friends—customs like eating together, which the aliens view as a very private affair. That they eventually will adapt is confirmed in the character of Marco Antonio, an alien who has been living happily among humans for hundreds of years. Unlike Ruth and Gabriel, he and others like him have chosen the sanguinary lifestyle. In other words, they live on blood and have been the ones responsible for the vampire legends. The author’s ability to show the commonalities among the obvious dissimilarities of her characters is a true strength.

Stylistically, Johnson employs the traditional approach of starting a new chapter when changing narrators, but to make the transition even clearer, she uses a standard font when speaking as Ruth and then shifts to italics for the chapters when Ann narrates. In order to highlight just how differently the aliens and humans think, she often recaps a chapter’s events in the first few paragraphs of the following chapter, a technique which allows the reader to experience what has occurred from both a human and an alien perspective.

Johnson keeps her plot moving at an even pace, causing the story to unfold naturally rather than striving for the frenetic speed of a thriller. This gives her plenty of time to focus on developing her characters and to explore the frightening scenario of what could happen to our society if such a disaster should occur in our lifetime. The result is a well-written and entertaining tale that is as much a study into human (and alien) behavior as it is a science fiction yarn.

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