For such a small book, Invaders of the Planet Earth took a super long time for me to read. This slender red and blue volume has been at my side or in my bag nearly the whole summer, from when I went away to the coast to the weekend I spend in a fascinating hotel in Portland. The fact that it took so long to finish isn’t necessarily a dig on its quality–it’s actually not bad, though not stellar either. These CYOA reviews go in fits and starts, so I decided it’s time to pick them up again.
Invaders of the Planet Earth by Richard Brightfield (illustrated by Leslie Morrill)
Published: August 1987
Number in the CYOA Series: 70
It’s astonishing that the alien invasion theme hasn’t been used in the Choose Your Own Adventure series, at least to the extent it is here, until book number 70. Invaders of the Planet Earth telegraphs its scenario with its title. It also sets up a very interesting and unusual twist that’s different than the usual parameters of alien invasion stories. This is both the book’s strength and its downfall. It’s not bad by any means, but there is a sense, once the reader closes the book, that there were some significant missed opportunities.
IOTPE takes place at some point in the near future, about ten years after Earth has been invaded and conquered by a race known as the Taurons. Very few people have even seen a Tauron, so we have no idea what they look like, and they don’t really interfere with humans’ day-to-day business. The twist is this: the Taurons’ energy field is extremely susceptible to electrical interference, so they’ve outlawed and/or destroyed all devices on Earth that use electricity. Even clicking on a portable flashlight, Mr. Brightfield tells us early on, will bring a Tauron ship down on you in minutes. Thus the world has been reduced to something out of the late 19th century: gas lamps, horses and buggies, and steam trains.
This was a big city (New York) in the 1890s–trolley cars, horse drawn carriages etc. Imagine an alien invasion story in this kind of setting. That’s what I expected with this book.
This is a terrific premise and one that opens the book with tremendous promise that this will be an unusual, thought-provoking adventure. “You” are an ordinary kid who lives in the town of Midville, Colorado. One day, not much is happening around your town, but your friend Lisa says she’s going to Metro, a nearby big city, to visit her uncle. Metro is the center of anti-Tauron resistance. Do you go with her or stick around town? The fact that this choice is pretty low-stakes isn’t really a problem here, despite the fact that the cover advertises “More Challenging Choices!” (they aren’t, really). The premise is so cool that the reader is willing to sit back and wait for a slower ramp up to something interesting and challenging.
The early portions of the book are wonderful and evocative. A few early choices lead you to Metro, a city where the ban on electricity has rendered skyscrapers darkened towers that take considerable effort up numerous flights of stairs in order to navigate. (I’m reminded of the wonderful 1965 film Mirage, which involves being caught in a skyscraper in a blackout as a major plot point). Most of the plots focus on you getting involved with various resistance movements against the Taurons, such as one with Professor Cromley, who hides out in a skyscraper too tall for most people to bother with climbing all the stairs. Almost all alien invasion plots feature resistance movements as their second act, and IOTPE is no different.
But unfortunately this is where the book starts to fall apart. The resistance plots–there are a couple of them–simply don’t make the full use of the no-electricity premise. The focus is on overpowering the Taurons, usually with new technologies, and several plots involve you and Earth getting involved with another alien race, the Vork, whose long-standing struggle with the Taurons is evidently the whole reason they invaded Earth to begin with. (I admit I was a little unclear on this point–it’s not explained very well). So in the latter stages of the book you’re running around with a weapon called a gravbar, which harnesses the power of lightning, or trying to blow up the Taurons with grenades of Vork design. None of it is bad, but it’s just pretty milquetoast.
Alien invasion stories were big in pop culture in the 1980s. Invaders from Mars, a film that deliberately imitated classic 1950s invasion stories, came out in 1986, the year before Invaders of the Planet Earth was published.
I say this is a missed opportunity because Brightfield could have gotten a lot more inventive with the premise. How about a resistance movement that seeks to work within the no-electricity limitation–perhaps by defeating the Taurons with more primitive weapons, or, better yet, trying to outwit them and get them to destroy themselves or quit the planet of their own volition? These options are never explored. I was hankering for a scene where perhaps you take on the Taurons in a sailing ship or somehow use antique trains against them. That would have been cool. The gravbar and the Vork seem like rather lazy plot choices.
There’s nothing bad about Invaders of the Planet Earth. It’s well-written, generally diverting and enjoyable enough for what it is. It just doesn’t follow through on its cool premise and in the later stages becomes a pretty standard paint-by-numbers invasion-and-resistance story. A lot of kids probably really loved it. I just think it had a lot of untapped potential.
Next up: R.A. Montgomery introduces us to The Brilliant Dr. Wogan.