“Humans dream of a perfect life, and miss the perfection of life.”
Luke Rhinehart, a novelist usually described as belonging in the humor genre, is perhaps best known for his series which began with the 1971 book The Dice Man. A long-lived cult classic, the book explores the life of a fictional psychotherapist who elects to live by dice rolls rather than making decisions. Invasion follows with a similar absurdist humor plot but branches into the realm of science fiction by including an alien invasion theme.
Yes, aliens, and as is a prerequisite for interstellar (or, in this case inter-universe) travel, they are more advanced creatures than us humans. But where Rhinehart takes things off the beaten “visitors-from-outer-space” script is in their nature. Imagine a being described as a “hairy beach ball” with a Stephen Hawking-level intelligence, the life goals of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh, and whose theme-song is Sheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do.” Fun, it seems, is what these aliens are all about and fun their only goal.
Fortunately for these fuzzy, party-hearty aliens, one of their initial contacts is with a laid-back Long Island fisherman named Billy and his adventurous wife and two boys. Billy is a self-proclaimed bull-shitter whose philosophy is best summed up with his own words:
“The fact is, I’ve learned over the years that for us humans, being right is a losing strategy. The more convinced I am that I’m right, the more unhappiness I cause others and myself. I think one reason I love to bullshit is that when I’m doing it I’m never in any danger of thinking I’m right.”
Sage words, particularly during an election year! At any rate, the family adopts the alien, passes him off as a weird pet “dog” and christens him (actually “shim” as the aliens are bi-gendered) Louie. Louie and the other visiting aliens soon develop the view that we humans are destroying ourselves and the planet by doggedly pursuing non-fun goals and set themselves the task of rectifying the situation via playful jokes. Unfortunately, the government, military-industrial complex, and various economic entities and corporations do not take kindly to the prankster aliens and quickly have them classified as dangerous terrorist enemies.
What follows is a delightful, creative romp of an adventure that trails a thoughtful social message behind. It’s one thing to write an essay or op-ed piece complete with graphs and charts showing the ever-widening gap between the ruling economic and political classes and hoi polloi. But it is often so much more effective to tell a story that, through it’s telling, allows the reader to viscerally experience the rift Rhinehart seeks to highlight between basic human needs for pleasure and fulfillment and what current dominant culture prizes as “success.” In short, Invasion puts forth the question, “If it’s not fun, then why are we doing it?” It is this emphasis on fun that keeps this book lighthearted, despite the cynical nature of its social and political observations.
The structure of the novel is complex and varied, with multiple points of view interspersed with chapters of news-like story narration. This keeps the plot both moving forward and building in scope. Rhinehart’s comedic style is wonderfully understated and rich in depth and subtlety. The only weakness is that the story unravels a bit towards the end and slips over the line ever so slightly into didactic manifesto. Likely, Luke Rhinehart is simply setting the stage for his sequel novel, to be titled The Hairy Balls and the End of Civilization. And, with a title like that, how can one not look forward to it?