Review: Alien by Ali Raz
By Thomas Huntington
When you first open Ali Raz’s novella you are met with a single block of text, enhoused by a boundary in the page’s right corner. A short, violent transcendental moment. A hallucination. Read alone, this short block of prose captures the entire atmosphere of Alien. Turning the page, you find three more blocks. Soon, you realize that a large percentage of the novel is written, and intended to be read this way—trapped by its own white space, imprisoned within its own pages.
Raz has written a multi-dimensional mystery, riddled with striking bursts of violence that linger deep in the gut. In a hostile and unclear landscape, a hunter searches for aliens. Dripping with paranoia, this investigation is ripped free from traditional detective beats. Instead, the hunter is dragged through the story by radio codes, seductive and grotesque characters that emerge like fingers curling through an open back door: “I am a coordinate, I know. I’m hunting aliens, but I’m not hunting them for me.” Every shadow is a potential enemy, the atmosphere like a storm-cloud of whispers, hallucinatory alien contact, epiphanies slipping between scrambled radio static. Crows rip at eyes, lizards and cockroaches scuttle over beds, the skies thick with fleeing birds. When alone, the hunter is seduced by shadowy figures from parallel worlds, hypochondriactic messages emanating from their insides. Characters are without shape, friends and lovers slip past in the periphery, their names minted in abbreviations. Raz takes you through dizzying scenes of surreality—a circus, a sex dungeon—and any pleasure in this world comes with a clear price.
Hypnotic, visceral, and pulsing with energy, Alien beams a multi-faceted message through waves of static. At its core, the story’s secret is housed in the breakdown of communication. Characters, ex-lovers, confidants and imaginary guides appear out of smoke, dancing the line between memory and imagination. Figures like the Shadow, an extra-dimensional figure who delivers the hunter’s orders, appear without explanation, their messages simple and menacing, yet still unclear.
“THERE ARE MORE OF THEM. YOU NEED TO INCREASE YOUR WORK HOURS. It sounds petulant. We’re crossing the street in the middle of traffic. Car lights cut right through It. I’m doing my best, I reply.”
Impossible, disconnected relationships mean revelations can be felt by the reader but never quite understood. Any truth is buried in code and white noise. The alien hunter is both surrounded by characters, but eternally lonely. The hunter seems separated between friends; even from those that exist in the same dimensional space feel as though an invisible sheet of glass keeps them from coming too close. Human interactions feel like Raz weighing up a difference between meatspace and cyberspace—“Concepts are organic matter, like cells”. Like online, friendships in this can appear closer, more intimate, but are inherently disconnected by their nature. In our world, this is a material difference, in Raz’s world, the boundaries are far more unclear.
11:11 Press and Raz’s attention to the book’s interior form an integrated addition to the novella’s central theme. The story’s disconnected text-box landscape demands immediacy, as though each beat is a self-enclosed moment; disconnected from the past, and likely bearing no future. This spotlight turns the text’s surroundings to psycho-optic black, a paranoid shadow around the prose, refocusing the reading away from the character’s goal, and toward the constant pressure of futility. Near the end, when the text is freed from its constraints, you find yourself in a moment of unhinged violence. A breaking wave that crashes hard, sucking the story down with it.
Reading Alien is like a slow walk through heavy rain; a soothing but mystifying experience, where unanticipated forks of lightning streak across the night sky when we least expect. Her clear-cut prose paints the portrait of a world beaten to the point of obscurity, where love continues to gasp for air. With all the pulp trademarks, but unshackled from a sprawling word-count or well worn arcs, Raz’s novella is Neo-Noir at its very best and quietest.
Thomas Huntington is a writer from Melbourne, currently living in Berlin. He has been published by Grattan Street Press, Apocalypse Confidential, and runs the small press Soyos Books.