Good News from Outer Space Critical Essays

John Kessel


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

John Kessel has a gift for comic invention. The humor, mysteries, and chills of the story begin on the first page. When George is introduced, readers realize that the novel will be darkly whimsical because the reporter, like the subject of a typical tabloid tale, recently has been revived from the dead. Through his minor characters and scenes of an unraveling culture, Kessel targets the ignorance and sloth underlying the popularity of tabloid journalism in modern America. The success of Gilrays preachings and the demoniac magnetism of Richards charisma reveal Kessels distaste for the fear mongering and greed of televangelism.

Kessels satirical tone is effectively funny and grim, and his novel takes potshots at everything from the social conditions of modern America to earlier science fiction. The alien invasion suggests a number of familiar plots, beginning with H. G. Wellss The War of the Worlds (1898) and including Arthur C. Clarkes Childhoods End (1953) and Jack Finneys The Body Snatchers (1955), but Kessel coyly declines to explain the motive behind the invasion, unlike these classic texts. The invasion story by its nature conveys and expresses paranoia, which Kessel increases by portraying aliens who deceive, frighten, and abuse ordinary Americans for no apparent reasons other than curiosity and Schadenfreude, the joy in others misfortunes. This disinclination to explain everything operates throughout the novel; for example, has George actually been feminized, or has he learned to value his wife’s love?

Science fiction traditionally presents a problem that humans solve, in the process becoming more enlightened and heroic. Kessel alludes to recent paradigms such as quantum theory that reveal the search for complete knowledge to be in vain, even as he casts doubt on many recent human endeavors. The traditional figure of the noble private investigator who discovers inner truths is likewise parodied when Richard, wondering where George has gone, puts a detective on his tail. The comedy of errors becomes horrific when readers realize that the detective is a crazy paranoiac who thinks she has been commissioned to assassinate George. Her mission contributes to the humor and suspense.

Good News from Outer Space was nominated for the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. It has been translated into several languages.