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- Published on Amazon.com
Wimpy Walter Stickle is growing a backbone…and it’s got a name – Goldotti. If you read Larry Enright’s first installment of the Stickle saga, you might remember him [Stickle, not Goldotti…or Enright, for that matter] as an early middle aged nerd working for Social Security who helped a suspiciously needy group of aliens receive enough money to survive incognito on Planet Earth. Turned out these were heroes in hiding.
Among them was Vivien, the girl of his dreams – beautiful eyes, hidden by the most awful Coke bottle eyewear – who became the catalyst for his eventual involvement in Galactic intrigue. That novel, Walter Stickle and the Galactic Rangers, nicely sets up this one.
Enter the Goldotti, a particularly ruthless race of parasites running rampant throughout the galaxy, latching onto whichever sentient civilization suits their purpose. Their latch point, the victim’s backbone, is only one of Walter’s problems…
Key people in his life are acting like extras from Invaders From Mars: too calm, too distracted, and too authoritarian. Some are downright nasty. Neighbors, the local corporate CEO, and his boss at SS all come down hard on his button-down lifestyle until once again, the Galactic Rangers descend from Space.
If only he remembered who they were. That part of his head was hijacked at the end of his previous encounter. Even his Coke-bottled beauty was no more than a romance from France.
Before long, fiery battles erupt on one planet and threaten a second, i.e. ours, and Walter, confused and gullible as always, is forced to save the day. And that’s where his backbone becomes less Goldotti and more, well, Stickle.
* At first, Walter’s changed little from his first adventure. He’s still timid and in need of an unnerving amount of order in his life. But the goodness in him shines a bit more as he smiles a hello at Mrs.Giamotti before buying bagels for his coworkers, or offers to play Kick the Can after work with next door neighbor kids, Jack & Jenny. He makes sure he has a daily 6:45 AM conversation with retired army sergeant Ralph Minton on his way out the door, and even counts 8th graders, Biff & Frank as his friends: he didn’t rat them out for toilet papering houses.
All this regularity makes the imminent Invaders-style disruption a little more disturbing and sinister. By the book’s second half, though, we’ve seen some progress in that Stickle backbone. While he’s not quite Clint Eastwood, he’s at least approaching Ben Stiller territory.
* As always, Enright works narrative in a down-to-Earth, yet clever manner…
“Walter ate some of his bowl of cereal standing at the kitchen window. The garbage can in the cabinet under the sink ate the rest.”
* The same goes for the rhythm of his dialogue. Here, Walter is steering friend [and alien] “Lenny” away from operating a motor vehicle…
“Okay, how about I drive?”
“You can navigate.”
“You don’t even own a car, Walter.”
“I’m a good driver. I’ve never had an accident.”
“Because you don’t have a car, remember?”
“I’ve driven lots of times.”
“What? At an amusement park? Bumper cars don’t count.”
“I drive real cars.”
“I know your generation. You learned on a video game, didn’t you? What was it, that Car Simulator thing?”
Walter pulled out his wallet and showed Lenny his driver’s license. “See. You don’t get that from playing Grand Theft Auto.”
* Enright does Outer Space well, too. The action crashes and soars, Star Trek style, across two parasite infected planets, peaking, for me anyway, when Walter himself is captured…
“I’ve often marveled at how you humans enjoy picking your victims before eating them,” sneers the evil Commander Tague. “Have you ever stopped to think of the poor lobsters [in a seafood restaurant tank] spending their all too short lives waiting and watching, night after night, as people ogle over them, never knowing when someone will choose them and their painful end will come in a pot of boiling water?”
What happens next will stand the hairs up on the back of your neck.
As the plight of our hero and his cohorts spiraled downward, I kept cheering for them, but it didn’t help. Several dead heroes and an infected population of Earthlings left Walter with the fate of two planets hanging in the balance. Enright had painted himself into a corner. He’s done that in a number of his stories.
And then from somewhere, he pulled the threads neatly together into a satisfying resolution. He’s done that, too, in each of those other stories. It’s one of his strengths.
Here, though, there’s more. As the story winds down, someone is still missing, and something serious is still wrong. What happens on the last page made me want to read more.
How ‘bout it, Larry? Got another Stickle in your pocket?