Invasion of the Funny Fish: Science fiction for the Trump era

The FF’s, the Funny Fish, suddenly appeared on aging radical Billy Morton’s fishing boat off the coast of Long Island, and followed him home. There these beings that looked like furry beachballs in their relaxed state, but which could also morph into almost any shape imaginable in a nanosecond — including into human form — seemed friendly enough, and super-smart. Before long they had moved into the Morton family home and stated tinkering with the boys’ computers.

What was their objective coming to Earth? They mastered the technology easily enough, and soon government and corporate websites and networks were being hacked. Individuals and progressive nonprofits around the country suddenly had millions of dollars mysteriously transferred into their bank accounts.

Who knew Robin Hood was a tribe of aliens from outer space?

This is the premise set up in Luke Rhinehart’s new sci-fi novel Invasion, which came off the press in September. Rhinehart is best known for his earlier bestseller The Dice Man.

The FFs, or as they come be known officially as “Proteans,” really are here only to make life more fun. They are appalled at how seriously humans take everything, and they are also dedicated egalitarians. Big business malfeasance and government malpractice are abhorrent to their life affirming ideology.

It doesn’t take long before every government agency in existence is on their trail, ready to wipe them out. Of course, they are “terrorists” — what else could they be in these times? To the FF mind, however, “Human beings are the planet’s way of committing suicide.” The aliens were out to save humanity from itself.

Rhinehart uses an omniscient strategy to tell the story from a number of points of view: From the account by protagonist Billy Morton, the official history of the invasion by a government historian, by various related items in the news, by the off-center but right on target Protean definitions for human concepts they find need greater clarity, and from an individual agent’s filed reports. The voice telling the story is the author’s, and he is not objective.

A few choice definitions from The New Protean Dictionary of American Usage will suffice to indicate the author’s proclivities:

Advertising: “The center of modern civilization, now with a new formula and fifty percent off. It enables humans to replace the old excrement they didn’t need with new excrement they don’t need.”

Global Warming: “An ongoing process denied by many Americans because they are able to see clearly that it is sometimes quite cold out.”

Military Drones: “A weapon developed to kill people in far away lands that permits the killers not to miss karaoke night at their favorite bar.”

Network Nightly News: “A half-hour TV program during which lengthy and important commercials are interrupted by occasional discussions of trivial recent events.”

Terrorist: “Anyone who perpetrates an act of violence against unarmed human beings. In American usage, does not include actions by members of the American, European, or Israeli police forces or military.”

If George Orwell had written science fiction, Invasion comes close to what he might have produced. In an “Item in the News,” the Republican National Committee announced its six basic principles. The first is “On Eternal War”:

“We Republicans, knowing that people throughout the world will always hate us for our love of Freedom, believe that Our Beloved Nation should be eternally at war with all who resist our just interference in their nation’s affairs; that this Eternal War must be offensive rather than defensive; that all killing should take place in other lands; and that there will be peace in the world only when Our Great Nation has pacified all our enemies.”

Rhinehart draws appealing portraits of the Morton family members — Billy, Cuban-born wife Carlita, and their two sons Lucas and Jimmy. Even his local police and federal agents, and the U.S. president, are drawn as conflicted, rounded human beings. The FFs themselves have real personalities and the reader will be drawn into a deeper appreciation of their fun-loving thought as the novel proceeds. Invasion entertains probing questions about what is an “alien,” after all, and concurrently, what does it really mean to be human? One love affair in the novel between a woman and an FF confounds our judgment while also reminding us that historically many forms of “miscegenation” have been considered illegal, immoral and unnatural.

Unmistakable allusions to the Occupy movement, the civil rights and Black Lives Matter movements, historic campaigns against bigoted laws and behavior, the war on terrorism abroad and at home, appear throughout. Even the now president-elect gets a mention: A jury in the trial of one of the FFs is comprised of “typical American citizens — meaning a quarter of them thought Jesus would be coming soon, that Iraq had taken out the Twin Towers, that Donald Trump was an intellectual giant, and that the Protean invaders were the Antichrists.”

Although there are many LOL passages in Invasion as we recognize our own human and peculiarly American capitalist foibles, I would have to say that from time to time Rhinehart departs from the tone of his characters and speaks with his own authorial voice, which can wax a bit preachy (even though I approve his sermons). But compared to the egregious flights of imagination detailed in this delightful story, and the perceptive insights provided into the true workings of our system, this is a small complaint. The FX team at a major motion picture studio will have a ball creating the shape-shifting invaders. In fact, there’s already a book sequel announced at the end of this apocalyptic tale: “The Hairy Balls and the End of Civilization.”

I am not a customary sci-fi reader; this book came to me by way of my sister, who instinctively knew I would love it. She was right. You will too.

By Luke Rhinehart
Titan Books, 2016, 445 pp.


Eric A. Gordon
Eric A. Gordon

Eric A. Gordon is the author of a biography of radical American composer Marc Blitzstein, co-author of composer Earl Robinson’s autobiography, and the translator (from Portuguese) of a memoir by Brazilian author Hadasa Cytrynowicz. He holds a doctorate in history from Tulane University. He chaired the Southern California chapter of the National Writers Union, Local 1981 UAW (AFL-CIO) for two terms and is director emeritus of The Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring Southern California District. In 2015 he produced “City of the Future,” a CD of Soviet Yiddish songs by Samuel Polonski. He received the Better Lemons "Up Late" Critic Award for 2019, awarded to the most prolific critic. His latest project is translating the fiction of Manuel Tiago (pseudonym for Álvaro Cunhal) from Portuguese. The first two books, "Five Days, Five Nights" and "The Six-Pointed Star," are available from International Publishers NY.