Walter Mosley’s novel The Wave reads like an X-Files episode.
The book fields aliens, government secrecy and conspiracy, and a heavy-handed-ominous-the-truth-is-out-there atmosphere, but sans Scully and Mulder. Instead, we get Errol Porter, an out-of-work computer programmer compelled to investigate a series of mysterious phone calls from someone claiming to be his long-dead father, Arthur.
Errol tracks the caller to the cemetery where his father is buried and discovers a young man who vaguely resembles his father. Porter convinces himself that GT — short for “Good Times,” the moniker the young man claims for a name when asked — is some slightly-off-his-nut half-brother from a secret family his father must’ve kept. That’s the only way GT could know so many details from Errol’s life. Even when things get weird — GT noms a stomach-full of sand and babbles about some unifying phenomenon known as the Wave — Errol maintains his skepticism. Eating sand and babbling about the Wave is only part of GT’s delusion. Only after GT reveals family secrets that Errol’s father could know — an affair and a murder — does Errol begin to relinquish his skepticism, and accept the possibility his father has somehow been resurrected.
At this point in the novel, Mosley has developed a potentially thought-provoking exploration of family relationships — it turns out Arthur murdered his wife’s lover — incorporating elements of speculative fiction or magical realism to out the nature of those relationships. But, the novel quickly devolves into a bad episode of The X-Files, as GT wanders off and government agents whisk Errol away to a secret facility where a mad scientist/general, David Wheeler, has begun conducting a secret war against a race of amoeba-like, tentacled aliens with the power to resurrect the DNA and memories of the dead — thus, GT really is Errol’s father resurrected, sort of. Much of the action after the government agents abduct Errol falls into a one-dimensional pit: the government agents — homeland security — are the bad guys and Errol, GT and the rest of the aliens are the good guys. The aliens — really a corporate blob of united cells that were attached to a meteorite eons ago — even get to have god-like qualities: the ability to resurrect the dead, near-immortality, a sense that they are a unifying organism in harmony with their host planet, and a sort of apocalyptic merging episode soon-to-come that will fully unite their species, and possibly all species into one Wave of being.
If Mosley had written about 200 more pages and worked out more details about the aliens and the quasi-theological aspects of their existence, and their relationship to humanity, other than that some humans feel they are a disease and a threat, then maybe this novel would have worked as speculative fiction. As it is, it’s mostly cliché-ridden sci-fi territory: Wheeler develops a toxin that kills the aliens and the ensuing battle is reminiscent of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The aliens themselves resemble the tentacled Martian machines from the 1950s movie version of Wells’ classic.
Mosley is best known for his crime fiction, which I plan to tackle at a later date. After reading The Wave, in which he uses elements of crime fiction, I wonder, with so many cliched sci-fi elements, if this novel is meant to be a parody of science fiction rather than a serious science fiction novel. If it’s not a parody, then it really comes off as bad science fiction.