I’m often distracted by the smell of old paperbacks — I’d like to imagine there’s a direct correlation between how much I’m distracted to how bad it is — which would make reviewing easier. Perhaps how strongly I’m compelled to write about the smell should be considered an indicator…
And so, here we go — the smell of D. G. Compton’s The Missionaries, a brief exposition:
This one has a sickly sweet smell which grows on me as I leaf through the pages, a hand speckled with perfume touched a corner (perhaps?), perhaps the bookseller had his wife package it for me, the cigarette ad strategically placed in the middle which reads “True’s the one,” “True: The low tar and nicotine cigarrettes” is banal and bland — no one smoked around this book (I guess the bad advertisement didn’t snatch any young kids). I suspect the book wasn’t opened. Sad? Not really…
The Missionaries is inane. Alas, I have to actually talk about the book…
Brief Plot Summary
Four alien missionaries land in the little Devon town of New Molton. They take on the forms (and mannerisms) of the first humans they encounter — a youth biker gang run by the 19-year-old Dacre. When Dacre tells his story of alien contact nobody (logically) believes him.
Let’s just pause a second and recap: Biker Gang Alien Missionaries.
Soon the aliens, having escaped the police/military/various people trying to hunt them down, come to Dacre’s house and “miraculously” heal his dying father (the dynamic between Dacre and his father is supposed to be the central emotional facet explored in the narrative). Thus, Dacre’s family becomes the first converts of Ustiliath — a vague life force theology.
The family tries to hide the aliens but soon the government takes them away to London where they spread their word from jail. Soon the aliens are released and the next hundred pages describes their attempts at converting people and how humans contort the message — surprise!
Compton in the last thirty or so pages desperately attempts to revive his moribund narrative, moribund characters, and moribund ideas with some “what are aliens really up to?” questions and “how much are they relying on technology?” In short, it’s an amateur last ditch attempt to revive an amateur work.
D. G. Compton despises his characters. Which would be fine IF the work was slightly inventive. Compton’s sarcasm permeates every page — combined with the pedestrian plot, the biker gang aliens, and a vague and undefined theology it is simply a frustrating and painful experience.
I understand that he is also trying to write a satire on missionary activities and religion in general — that much is manifestly clear (at various points he pairs a quotation from a 19th century missionary manual with the rules that the aliens are following). However, the work is so frustrating to read that the satire falls flat.
If you are a Compton completest perhaps you can gather the courage to read this work. If not, stay away.
My copy does smell nice…
Distracted by the smell again.