I’m a coordinate, I know. I’m hunting aliens, but I’m not hunting them for me.
My last read of 2022, first review for 2023, is an otherworldly escapade from the ever inventive indie publisher, 11:11 Press. Alien by Ali Raz with its delightful vintage-style cover looks like a comic and, to be honest, with the text presented in varying-sized boxes that move across the pages, it reads rather like a comic at least until the end when the text sheds its boxes (or is unboxed) as our hero loses control of the illusion of control and everything starts to fall apart.
Unfolding as scraps of a desperate narrative, we follow an alien hunter in a city under siege as she navigates a strange, distorted and deadly terrain. A surreal game is afoot in this hellish urban landscape. Our hero knows she’s a pawn, in service of the mysterious “Syndicate,” guided by coded messages from received from poet’s radio, and viscerally attuned to the presence of a nefarious network that directs her to sites where small blue-skinned aliens might be found. Titillated and thrilled by the hunt, she does not fully understand how predetermined her movements are or how deeply she is caught in a twisted web of eccentric friends and lovers. It’s a dangerous game, but dangerous is, after all, the only kind of game in town.
The world our unnamed hero inhabits is cruel and unforgiving—gruesome, deviant, hellish and ripe with all manner of foul odors. Death is cheap, possibly even desired, haunting waking and sleeping hours alike:
Infinite openness and infinite malleability. My teeth turn to metal. I laugh with sparkling metal teeth. Like a villain, like a villain, the infinite refrain seethes in me. I roll my eyes back in their sockets, look at my brain. I wake up shivering in sweat. I sit up on my mattress, make a note in my notebook.
This is sci-fi in the capital-w-Weird sense of the genre, but painfully spare, stripped to its bare essentials and wildly poetic. Raz sketches a an extra-terrestrial reality of and not of our planet. Amid the devastation she plants select South Asian imagery—banyan trees and sugarcane juice vendors—that seems to soften the hardened, cracked and decaying apocalyptic cityscape:
The banyan tree weeps things to me. Its voice is glazed and husky.
But, be careful, one could just as easily imagine our hero strangled in a mesh of aeriel roots surrounding the trunk of a banyan tree or ground to pulp in the gears of a sugarcane vendor’s cart. No place is safe. No one can be trusted. And hearts can be broken.
Alien is a grimy futuristic noir romp, inventive in format with a sharp, poetic narrative that promises a wickedly queer adventure—and delivers.
Alien by Ali Raz is published by 11:11 Press.