Book Review: Office Aliens
Disclosure: I was given a free copy of this book in exchange for an impartial and honest review.
Office Aliens is the debut novella of New Zealand author R. Moores.
This review is spoiler free. I may post a full spoiler review once the book has been out for a while.
Our narrator (I'll refer to him as "our guy") works in a dead-end public service job that will see him managing aliens bureaucratically named NHABs (non-human alternative beings) by the government. That's right! Aliens decided to land in New Zealand and not America for once. This seems like a smart move [insert Trump joke here]. But there's one problem, the NHABs are thick as pig shit. Basically our guy is going to be be training simpletons basic data entry. Needless to say, our guy hates his job in middle management.
The first alien they interview is John, who turns out to be a telepathic genius with gnarly powers. He makes our guy an offer he can't refuse. What is the offer? You'll have to read to find out!
This novella is told in first person and uses present tense.
Let's start with our guy the narrator. Man, I hate this guy. It wouldn't surprise me if he was heavily based on Winston Smith from George Orwell's1984, another first person character I despise. Like Winston he is a whiny, self-absorbed misogynist who desperately needs to get laid. Furthering this theory, a character very much like Julia shows up in the book. The problem is, you can kind of empathise with Winston because he lives an awful life in the ultimate nanny state. Our guy just seems bitter about being stuck in the public sector in a job where he does nothing much.
In saying that, our guy does seem to suffer from severe and prolonged depression. Many of his actions at the start of the book suggest this. He's a stoner who drinks every night and pulls sickies to lie in bed and feel miserable. Not once does he mention friends or family and he spends his weeknights alone or yelling abuse at people playing Tekken 7 online. Oh yeah, he's that guy. Moore does a good job at showing not telling, and as someone who has suffered on and off with depression, he also does the illness justice in his portrayal.
Apart from Lizzy (the Julia of the novella), the majority of other named human characters are middle or senior managers at the Ministry for Alternative Beings Offering Asisstans (ABOA) where our guy works. Most of them are caricatures of men and women many of us have worked with in the past. A sleazy older gentleman who offers to "mentor" Lizzy so she can rise through the ranks (the mentorship is sucking his dick to get a promotion). Another sleazy older gentleman who has more brylcreem in his hair than seems possible and who can't keep his eyes to himself. With our guy also being a bit of a perve, is this too much sleaze? Any woman who has worked with you in a large office will tell you no, it's definitely not. One of these guys is also overly enthusiastic and spends an hour speaking about something menial he's really interested in while everyone else sits and suffers in the meeting. We've all met one of him, right?
Then there's the women. Our guy tends to describe them as "hot" or "beautiful". When he's not using these terms, he turns into the fashion police:
"Maria stands by Slough's side in a horrible green dress that looks like an op shop find a first year university student would wear to an exhibition held in a community art gallery." - Our guy
What a bitch lol Regina George would love him! Women in the office are basically woke public servants.
To round out the humans that require further explanation, we have Vladimir Lenin. To say our guy is a big fan is an understatement. Many of Lenin's more, er, violent beliefs literally get our guy off. I don't want to spoil the book so I won't say anything further (but you know I want to!)
Then there's the NHABs. Apart from John, there's not a lot to them on the surface. They look like your typical Roswell alien with big eyes and little pathetic arms. However, Moores seems to be using them as an allegory for racism. Our guy hates them even though he's never spoken to one outside of a job interview. Passers by watch them get beaten on the street and don't bat an eyelid. The minister for ABOA Maria is what I like to call a "caretaker racist", a person who believes an ethnicity is beneath them and therefore needs to be taken care of. They often don't see themselves as racist, as they're "helping" said ethnicity. No. You're racist.
The Public Sector
This novella shits on the public sector a lot. However, as someone who has worked in the public sector for almost a decade, I didn't find it offensive. This is in part due to the fact that the shitting on is being done by our guy, who is an absolute toss pot. Are there some truisms hidden in the hate? You bet there are! Overpriced three day courses with gibberish names that teach you mindfulness and breathing techniques, check. People slacking off on a Friday, check. Trying to spread twenty minutes worth of work over a few hours, check. Policies on inclusiveness and diversity that use so much jargon they'll be unreadable in a decade, check.
This book hits on something that's really bothered me in the public sector of late. Using Māori in dribs and drabs without actually putting any effort into learning the reo. It comes off as tokenism. A number of our guy's colleagues only seem to know the most basic phrases that most of us learn before we're five (thanks Suzy Cato). "Kia ora" and "ka pai" are the main offenders (even though you can pretty much use the former to say the latter). The meeting rooms in the book are even named hui tahi, hui rua and so on. This is done in private and public offices alike so that people can give themselves a pat on the back for being "culturally inclusive". The funny thing is, many offices that do this don't even have Māori working there (as seems to be the case in this novella). Tokenism does not further the revitalisation of te reo Māori. Spend a day at a marae with local iwi instead of doing the expensive mindfulness course. Learn tikanga and the history of the iwi or hapū and whenua where you live. Do something that shows you actually appreciate the culture. Plus, koha is probably way cheaper than that course. The catering will definitely be much better too!
Comments on the writing
This is a debut novella, therefore I'll be less critical then I would with more established authors.
I tend to read things with an editorial eye so this may come off as a bit pedantic, but there were a few things that were missed by the editor. There were apostrophes missing in a number of possessive nouns. Moores does use these correctly throughout the book, so it's not poor writing that is the issue. There's switches between using then not using Oxford commas. There's also a full description of Prime Minister Richard Slough twice in the book, once when our guy finds out he's visiting the office, and again when he actually gets to the office. In such a short story I found the second description wholly unnecessary. Finally, I found that there were a lot of commas used where they either should have been a full stop or not been there at all. That is me being extremely picky, but sometimes it distracted me from the story. All of above could have been fixed with a buddy reader or two.
I also don't know if it was meant to be intentional, but the story was extremely repetitive. Moores is likely showing us the tedium of our guy's life, but there's only so many times I can read about someone going to sleep in slightly different ways.
I'm not really one for sex scenes, and it appears that Moores may not be either. The sex scenes in this book seemed to be placed in a necessity to the plot and aren't very erotic. I think he should have gone for the "camera panning up the wall" for the two and a half scenes we do get.
Lastly, I found it slightly tropey that we didn't know the narrator's name. Again, I think this was to show how distanced from the world our guy is, but by the third act it felt like Moores was jumping through hoops to not say his name. He didn't need a name, but I don't think it added anything to the story by not having it.
Moores did some really cool things in this book. A highlight for me was the dream sequences. Dreams are weird. Our guy has weird dreams, but a couple of them are relateable. Trying to get somewhere but never quite being able to get there is a particularly annoying type of dream I have. Moores does an excellent job of describing the randomness of dreams without it becoming confusing. I'd actually go as far as to say these are probably the best dream sequences I have ever read. Are they mega violent? In some cases, yes. But we all have awful nightmares that can be extremely violent.
Speaking of violence, Moores also writes this extremely well. It's blunt, detailed, and uncensored gore. It's written almost poetically, but that comes as no surprise as Moores is also a poet. His use of similes and metaphors is beautiful at times. I wish he'd made some of the sex scenes a bit more poetic too. Below is my favourite sentence from the book. It encompasses the beliefs and feelings of our guy in such a poetic way.
"We’ve had two thousand years of waiting for a saviour rather than saving ourselves, and instead of becoming liberated when we found out that the saviour was a lie, we decided instead to go back to the old ways; to go back to destroying ourselves and the planet in an orgy of consumerism." - Our guy
I also have to give Moores props for writing his first published novella in present tense. For those of you who don't write fiction, present tense is hard to pull off. Less skilled authors will often find themselves switching between past and present tense, to the point where most in the writing business will tell new authors to avoid it altogether. Moores pulled it off seamlessly and that must be applauded in a debut author.
TL;DR Office Aliens is an impressive debut novella by author R. Moores. From its allusion to Orwell's 1984 to its amazing dream sequences, this first outing is a must read for any New Zealand Sci-Fi fan. If you love to hate your protagonist, then this is the book for you, you wee masochist 😉