REVIEW: The Ballad Of Elva and Chester by Adrian Archangelo
Elva and Chester are space aliens who look like humans but have been on Earth since the year 1100 with the goal of helping humanity develop more empathy and compassion. (The rest of the beings in the galaxy don’t want us flying around out there until we do.) The duo have no human habits to contend with, but they are extraordinarily responsive to chocolate and hold it in special regard. However, Elva and Chester find human behavior baffling, and continually see their plans twisted by human responses. Consequently, nearly everything wrong on this planet over the past thousand years–from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Easter Island to The Black Plague–was caused by one of their historic debacles.
When the story opens, their bosses have shown up on Earth to express their outrage because the human race is so far behind the goal. The overlords intend to deflect another of those big asteroids into Earth’s path, just as they did to get rid of the pesky dinosaurs, and wipe out humanity once and for all. Elva and Chester demand an appeal, but will they be able to save the planet and its human inhabitants?
Dear Mr. Archangelo,
I will admit that is first the cover and then the blurb that lured me into reading this book. The cover is certainly different and the blurb sounded cute. Space aliens on the loose on earth, trying to make things better yet only managing to mess things up. They’ve got one last shot at it so this time can they get it right and save humanity.
The book starts in present day with the Judgment Crew from the Home Race arriving on Earth to touch base with their two operatives here – Elva and Chester. Those aren’t their actual names but just the closest approximation they think humans can manage. Elva and Chester are nearly 1000 years into their mission yet the Home Race is pissed at their progress which they frankly think is pathetic. Their thoughts? That Elva and Chester should have wrapped this up by now and coaxed/nudged humans to where they’d be useful or at least not a danger to themselves and others in the galaxy should humans venture beyond their own solar system. If not – it’s time for another asteroid cleansing – maybe this time for good.
A distraught Elva and Chester are frantically scrambling to salvage the last decades of their mission but the livid Judgment Crew are in no mood for excuses. Elva and Chester are whisked back to the beginning for a mission review and assessment. Things are not looking good. Their first outing and encounter with humans is a disaster and the subsequent ones aren’t much better. Kind of an alien version of “Hi, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” Elva and Chester do want to help the human race but they also desperately don’t want to end up like the infamously well known Idiot Team who preceded them and are a by word for eff-ups.
As Elva and Chester are made to re-watch some of their less than stellar actions – ricochets, they call them – the calamitous outcomes are painfully clear. Elva and Chester can and do argue that 1) the training manual is woefully inadequate 2) the tools they were given are piddly at best 3) they have tried to avoid the forbidden topics and 4) that humans really don’t seem interested in much except getting laid and getting more stuff. But the results of their time on Earth are fairly cut and dried.
The premise of the book is interesting but after a while, scenes – some far too detailed – become repetitive. How many times do we need to see failure 101? There is also something which might distress some readers, namely the “seers” Elva and Chester encounter. Granted these Down’s Syndrome children are presented as the wise ones who can “see” Elva and Chester exactly as they are and who are universally open and kind but it smacks of condescension.
Since Elva and Chester are inadvertently responsible for some of the greatest catastrophes and horrors of the past 1000 years, it’s also endlessly depressing. By the 3/4 mark, I was with the Judgment Crew in feeling that for sheer scale of disasters, Elva and Chester beat out the Idiot Team. With friends like them, humanity doesn’t need enemies.
What saves humanity and gives our team a last shot at salvaging their mission is Elva’s realization of the true purpose of the mission plus a gutsy dare using one of the best inventions of humanity. Too bad that this is followed by 20 some pages of “too precious” nods to famous sci fi novels . Overall, this one was too depressing and too repetitious for me to enjoy. C-