Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: 'The Hunters' by Burt Wetanson and Thomas Hoobler
3/5 Stars

‘The Hunters’ was first published in 1978; this Playboy paperback edition (223 pp.) was issued in 1979. The cover painting, evoking the box-office hit ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’, is by V. Segrelles.

In the small town of Bear Paw, Montana, a strange couple appear in town one day and give a 'Saucer Cult' presentation to skeptical townspeople: a journey to the stars, true enlightenment, and spiritual fulfillment, are theirs for the taking. Many townspeople are deeply moved by the presentation and the next morning, they gather in the town square in preparation for the Journey. An unusual silver bus arrives, and the couple welcome the earthlings aboard. The bus moves smoothly and silently out into the countryside, ultimately arriving at the ruins of a ghost town from the 19th century. The passengers debark, climb to the top of a nearby hill, and witness an enormous flying saucer.

The people from Bear Paw are amazed and awed by this display of technology and when the vessel lands, they prepare to board, singing hosanahs to the Star People. But it suddenly becomes unpleasantly clear that the aliens aboard the saucer are not benevolent. In fact, they are looking forward to sport….of the hunting kind. And the townspeople of Bear Paw are their quarry.

‘The Hunters’ is a pulp SF novel that was plainly written to cash in on the marketing excitement of ‘Close Encounters’ and the attendant UFO craze of the late 70s, as well as SF thrillers like ‘Alien’. The movie ‘Predator’ was still 9 years in the future, and it’s unclear if ‘Hunters’ influenced Jim and John Thomas, the screenwriters of Predator. Unlike the alien featured in Predator, in ‘Hunters’ the aliens are more humanoid in appearance and possess unique personalities; they also lack the impressive firepower and cloaking technology of the Predator. But they nonetheless remain formidable adversaries.

The townspeople are the usual motley collection of stereotyped individuals. We have some Commune-derived hippies; a quarreling married couple; an Indian couple fond of giving portentous, ‘Black Elk Speaks’ – style speeches to the unworthy Palefaces; a family of crazed Christian fundamentalists; the town drunk; and BadAzz Mofo Sam Tolliver, who can’t pass up a chance to mess with Whitey whenever there’s a lull in the action.

Authors Wetanson and Hoobler have a tendency to write lame passages of dialogue, much of it dealing with homespun philosophy and psychodrama, for the townspeople to engage in at inopportune times. I often found myself exasperated by the witless nature of some of the characters. But the encounters between human prey and alien hunter come with enough frequency and bloodshed to move the story along at a good clip despite these literary drawbacks. In its last 20 pages the narrative is genuinely engrossing, and the authors refrain from tipping their hands in terms of indicating who will ultimately triumph.

Readers interested in an entertaining, if not particularly original, SF adventure may want to give this book a try.

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