Review by: KEN KORCZAK
The premise of this novel centers around one of the most iconic UFO cases in history, but most of it reads a lot more like the Dukes of Hazzard or an episode of Hee-Haw than the X-Files. There’s a lot muscle cars, old pickup trucks, horses, hay bales and Harleys. Where you find them you’ll find a lot of good ol’ boys, hayseeds, hickster lawmen, slutty women and biker gang types.
This ambitious book also takes us back more than 100 years to tell the tale of a UFO-crash event through the eyes of the frontier people who witnessed it. That would be the residents of Aurora, a hardscrabble small town in northern Texas where the Dallas Morning News famously reported in April of 1897 that a UFO crashed and left the body of a dead alien for the simple townsfolk to bury.
But wait — this book attempts to do even more. In addition to telling a story from two different historical timelines, it makes frequent breaks away from the dual fictional narratives to provide readers with scads of straightforward information about UFOs.
Does it all hold together? Well … I guess I’ll say with mediocre enthusiasm that it does. It presents a coherent narrative for the most part. The diversions from the fictional tales to give us nonfictional UFO information aren’t so intrusive as to scuttle our sense of a story that flows and makes sense.
On the other hand, whatever chance this tale had for being a riveting page turner was lost when the authors decided on the three-pronged approach I describe above.
That’s too bad because the premise for TRAVELER is an idea with tremendous plot potential: A plucky young reporter gets her hands on a hot story — a deep mystery that’s even more complex than anyone imagines — and she sets out to unravel the mystery using her skills as an investigative journalist to write the scoop of the century.
But all that is washed out because the narrative is constantly switching gears between competing story timelines with added breaks to fill us in with UFO background information.
Another major drawback for me is that the authors’ choice to play their story for lowbrow laughs. It features characters that are painfully stereotypical, comical “white trash” types — you know, folks that are barely employed, grow “weed” on the side for extra cash, poach deer for food, live in shabby dumps, drive junky cars, hang out in frowzy bars, etc.
Even our newswoman heroine, Bonnie Reynolds, is a rather saucy tramp known to engage in the occasional casual three-way sex romp with her lusty dominatrix roommate. Here is how the authors describe reporter Bonnie Reynolds:
“142 pounds of alluring femininity … She was and forever would be a little slutty and a little dirty but perfectly happy with herself for being that way …”
Okay! So she’s not exactly Florence Nightingale. But hey, I’m no prude. (I was even a newspaper reporter once). It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Bonnie Reynolds’ licentiousness makes her a more interesting character in some respects, I suppose. It’s just that, because her impulsive debauchery is a baseline trait for more or less everyone in this tale, it doesn’t exactly make her stand out as a unique viewpoint character.
Sadly, I feel compelled to call out one particular passage in this book that brings great discredit to the authors — and although it’s only a couple of pages worth — it involves descriptions of Native Americans, of the Comanche people, and their attack on a group of settlers. The way this scene was written left me with a sense of loathing. That’s because it’s put forward with a certain gleeful viciousness I found disturbing.
Were the fierce Comanche people of this historical period saints? Absolutely not. But were the Spanish, Mexicans and American settlers who were invading, milling around and robbing the lands of the First Americans one iota better? Again — absolutely not. It was a different, complicated time. There were few paragons of virtue to be found on any side of the equation of the untamed West. But if one is inclined to write about atrocities committed by one group — then at least give a balanced account of history. There was plenty of blame to go around.
I could go on here with more to criticize as well — but I’ll only mention the painfully bad editing of this product. I despise playing ‘Grammar Police’ but sometimes authors who produce indie books or those issued by small press operations (in this case FLYING DISK PRESS) give me no choice. Don’t blame the messenger.
All in all, I can neither recommend or not recommend TRAVELER because ultimately its quality will be in the eyes of the reader — and I think opinions will be widely split.
The story of the Aurora UFO crash which appeared in the Dallas Morning News was written by S.E. Haydon. His great-great-grandson Stan Haydon published a small book in 2013 which is also a slightly fictionalized account of the event.
Stan Haydon said that story has been a source of constant controversy within his family for “five generations.” He suggests that his grandfather believed the story to be true and not a hoax by the original Haydon, as has often been charged by skeptics.
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Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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