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Mr. Spaceman

by Robert Olen Butler

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1671129,654 (3.15)1
This is the voice of Desi, the hero of Robert Olen Butler's novel Mr. Spaceman, who has kept a quiet vigil above the Earth for decades while studying the confusing, fascinating, and frustrating primary species of our planet, occasionally venturing to the planet's surface to hear their thoughts and experience their memories using his empathic powers. Now, on December 31, 2000, he prepares for the final phase of his mysterious mission, which begins when he beams a tour bus bound for a Louisiana casino aboard his ship. The twelve passengers will be the last humans whose lives he will experience before he positions his spaceship in full and irrefutable view of the people of Earth, and descend to the planet's surface to proclaim his presence to all of humanity at the turn of the millennium.Poignant, funny, and charming, Mr. Spaceman is filled with unexpected twists and turns, a tribute to the powers of love and understanding and the essence of what it means to be human.… (more)
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An alien abducts a busload of casino-bound tourists prior to revealing himself to humans at the Y2K celebration. A short novel of about 200 pages, written in Butler’s unmistakable first person style. I’m a big fan of his short stories. He did, after all, win a Pulitzer for “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain,” but my favorite stories are those in “Had A Good Time.”

This novel falls short, though, of being engaging or satisfying. It doesn’t really work as science fiction or speculative fiction - it is not nearly original or creative enough for that. The alien is the extra-terresstial of popular imagination - cat eyes, skinny body, green blood. And he is doing what does in the sensational tabloids - abducting humans.

It doesn’t work as popular fiction either, for much the same reasons, and there is no “plot.” I would expect it to be judged as literary fiction, but even there, in my opinion, it falls short. The only interesting character is the spaceman, and once we learn about his reluctance to do his “work,” what else is there? The other characters all make cameo appearances in very short scenes.

The “theme,” of comparing the alien to Jesus, the twelve passengers on the bus to his disciples, and his wife to Mary Magdalene, is obvious and not carried through. Even the old movie, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” which has a similar theme, did a better job of carrying through with the ending. Butler simply fizzles out and resorts to a non-ending ending.

I read this because I wanted to read one of his novels, to see how he handles the longer form. It’s a very short novel. Perhaps he wrote it as a long short story? So I wasn’t very impressed. ( )
  samfsmith | Sep 20, 2007 |
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This is the voice of Desi, the hero of Robert Olen Butler's novel Mr. Spaceman, who has kept a quiet vigil above the Earth for decades while studying the confusing, fascinating, and frustrating primary species of our planet, occasionally venturing to the planet's surface to hear their thoughts and experience their memories using his empathic powers. Now, on December 31, 2000, he prepares for the final phase of his mysterious mission, which begins when he beams a tour bus bound for a Louisiana casino aboard his ship. The twelve passengers will be the last humans whose lives he will experience before he positions his spaceship in full and irrefutable view of the people of Earth, and descend to the planet's surface to proclaim his presence to all of humanity at the turn of the millennium.Poignant, funny, and charming, Mr. Spaceman is filled with unexpected twists and turns, a tribute to the powers of love and understanding and the essence of what it means to be human.

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