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The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes

on Wed, 10/22/2014 - 00:00

“It’s an interest of mine, how people react when they see an alien landscape,” explains poet/writer Mykol Ranglen. “All sorts of preconceptions and assumptions arise, and yet, for once, they’re facing something new, different… other.”

Ranglen is the main protagonist of author Albert Wendland’s novel The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes (Dog Star Books, 2014), a science fiction mystery centered on the search for a piece of ancient alien technology. Such “Clips”—short for Carrier-Locked Integrated Program—have been found in the past and paved the way for mankind’s ventures into the far-reaches of the universe. The Clips were hidden throughout the galaxy by the Airafane, an extinct race that fought a losing war against the Moyocks, who likewise no longer exist. The technology of the Clips are thus not just a legacy handed down by the Airafane but a means for future races to protect themselves against the likes of the Moyocks, and are worth a fortune to anyone who finds one.

Mykol Ranglen found the third Clip, although only a few people are aware of that fact, as well as the fourth—an even more guarded secret. Because of his ability to find these alien blueprints, the fiancé of Ranglen’s ex-girlfriend attempts to enlist his aid in the search for a fifth Clip. Henry Ciat and Mileen Oltrepi discovered a clue as to its location by accident and have set out, along with three others who were with them at the time, to find the Clip in question. Ranglen declines to assist them, but when Henry is later murdered and the whereabouts of Mileen unknown, he is dragged into the mystery nonetheless. Not only does Mykol Ranglen have to contend with the three remaining treasurer hunters but the law enforcement agents investigating Henry Ciat’s death, officials from multiple governments and a notorious mobster who is not above killing another human being simply to make a point.

“The novel had been percolating in my head for some time, but what finally got me started was the combining of three different ideas,” author Albert Wendland explains of the book’s inception. “First, there was a notion I got from geology. It struck me that, in the theory of plate tectonics or continental drift, if an alien race had buried a near indestructible object in the subduction zone of a planet’s crust, then the object would be moved through the mantle by convention cells and finally brought back to the surface millions of years later. It made for an excellent hiding place, and an extreme version of ‘buried treasure.’” The Airafane use the same technique to hide their Clips in The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes.

“The other idea came from a twisted and much distorted piece of driftwood I found on a beach in North Carolina,” Wendland continues. “I imagined a derelict in space shaped like it, ugly and jagged, floating mysteriously beside another spaceship that was sleek and streamlined. The contrast appealed to me. Both derelicts would be deserted, but on board the second one would dead bodies. Grisly and haunting. And the final factor was an inciting incident—the protagonist of the book is visited by two police detectives, who feel he’s involved with a murder. Once I had those three things—an idea, an image, and the inciting incident—I could begin.”

Albert Wendland utilized those three inspirations to craft a top-notch novel within both the science fiction and mystery genres. While the sci-fi aspects conjure images of the vivid alien sceneries of Ray Bradbury and conspiratorial undertones of Philip K. Dick, the mystery elements harken back to the days of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Like Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, Mykol Ranglen is drawn into the search for a valuable object after a murder in which he becomes the prime subject, and then must navigate his way through an assortment of shady characters while likewise being manipulated by an attractive femme fatale.

The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes, however, also contains a philosophical examination of what it means to be human. First, for instance, there are the Clips and the effect their alien technology has had on mankind. The secrets of interstellar spaceflight, the ability to manufacture artificial gravity, even the blueprints for a livable landmass created from the debris of a new-born star were all contained within these small devices, and the accelerated advancement of the human race that the Clips brought about are further muddled by the fact that they defy the known laws of physics. Various scientists attempt to make de facto sense of them, but most of society is more interested in finding ways to use-and-abuse the technology that mankind has been gifted.

“Each discovery rebuilt civilization overnight, caused a century of change in a year,” it is explained at one point in the novel, while later someone comments, “We use all this stuff but we’re not masters of it. It’s changing us before we even decide to change.”

While some of those changes are for the better, others are not, and still other aspects of society remain the same. “Though the chaotic dispersion caused by Clips weakened the devotion to ethnic, racial, or national traditions, boundaries of class did not fade as easily,” Albert Wendland writes in The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes. “Ranglen admired the courage or endurance of the disadvantaged who chose, or were forced, to live now where they did, outside of ‘universal’ expansion. They gave up all chance for government support, while others simply had no choice. Thus, though he hated that so many people were still shut out, he loved that some of them preferred it that way, had declared, ‘No!’”

Such observations stand in direct contrast to the viewpoints of Reese Balrak, a notorious criminal kingpin likewise interested in finding the Clip. “You always impose your own interpretations,” he tells Mykol Ranglen. “Humans pride themselves on being so impartial and yet you can’t see beyond aspects of yourself. You assign a label, then you see just the label. Your theories blind you. You develop personal attachments to them. Your psychology is self-therapy, your sociology is politics, even your physics has possessiveness and greed. Those of you who feel you are most objective are the most deluded, most easily fooled. You want truth, but it’s not part of your nature. Detachment isn’t in you.”

Then there’s Mykol Ranglen, a man filled with passion yet stoically solitary—on the surface, at least, the polar opposite of Reese Balrak. “I remember you at a party once,” Ranglen is told by a former lover. “You kept to yourself, standing on a balcony and overlooking the crowd. I walked up to you and said that you must feel so isolated. You just smiled. ‘I don’t mind being alone,’ you said, ‘as long as I have a good view.’ I thought you were joking. Later I understood—that’s how you live.”

Despite his reluctance to get involved in the search for the fifth Clip, Ranglen spends the bulk of The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes traversing the universe in order to discover its whereabouts nonetheless. His motives are altruistic, however, an attempt to keep Mileen Oltrepi safe while bringing the full brunt of the Clips’ other pursuers upon himself. And despite his longing for isolation, even Ranglen cannot spend long periods of time in the “Fortress of Solitude” that he has constructed out of an ancient asteroid. He might not be looking for human connections, but human connections find him nonetheless. And while his romantic entanglements never last, he still becomes entangled. In fact, at the end of the narrative, a relationship with a female law enforcement agent investigating the murder of Henry Ciat becomes a very real possibility. Like the classic U2 song, Mykol Ranglen hasn’t found what he is looking for, but keeps on searching nonetheless.

“Though my novel is first-and-foremost a story, a murder mystery that leads into an interstellar treasure hunt, behind its movement and character drama, behind its scenes and twists and turns, is a deep emotional sense of longing,” author Albert Wendland explains. “A longing for other worlds, for other people, for ‘the other’ in general. You learn a lot of what’s inside yourself when you look outside, but the main desire of the book’s protagonist and of the book itself is to look without—to seek, to find, to encounter and to experience more than one’s self. It’s a longing for all the wonders of the universe itself, its mystery, its fascination, and its infinite promise. In the end, that’s what I hope my novel conveys.”

At one point in the narrative, Mileen Oltrepi—a talented artist—makes the comment, “You escape to other worlds but you bring yourself with you. We all do. There are no alien landscapes. It’s the only theme in all my paintings.” It’s also the dominant theme in life itself, as well as within Albert Wendland’s The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes.

Anthony Letizia

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