After the excellent “No Good Deed,” Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch take a step back with “Little Green Men” (April 2002), a simpler novel that seems rushed, since it has many more typos than the previous one. It’s a one-day read at 197 pages, with a one-track story. Its lack of surprises is a weakness, but it is a nice example of the Roswell teens’ (and sheriff’s) teamwork, as all eight main characters contribute.
Continuing the novels’ tradition of building from a lingering thread from the TV series, “Little Green Men” is a sequel to “How the Other Half Lives” (2.14). In that episode, the gang seemingly solves the Gandarium problem. But the husband-and-wife authors surmise that the Gandarium could have soaked into Roswell’s water supply. So what happens when residents drink or bathe in the alien-contaminated water? They turn green.
The authors awkwardly try here and there to make the outbreak of green-skin-afflicted people into a metaphor for the US government persecuting people for the color of their skin. Even though that’s literally what they are doing, as the army surrounds the hospital and takes the overflow of patients to the army base, it’s clearly to contain a medical situation in this case.
The book succeeds as a medical mystery, as Liz uses her microscope (she keeps one in her bedroom) to test skin samples from Alex and Maria (who have turned green) against her own, non-green skin. A reader gets a good, basic knowledge of skin pigmentation here. Then Liz realizes the alien and water-supply connections and the fact that the cure can be found via Max’s alien blood plasma.
“Little Green Men” is all about the gang devising plans and executing them. It doesn’t have the twists and layers of the superior “No Good Deed,” and it also lacks a major new character to provide a fresh outside perspective. Isabel is dating a college guy, Rob, in the early chapters, but he drops from the narrative after turning green and going to the hospital.
Without twists, the novel can get slow at times; indeed, Isabel’s thread consists of her being alternately bored and worried. Smith and Rusch give us solid writing about the gang doing their thing, though. At the army base, we see Max’s planning abilities, Tess’ skill at casting illusions and Sheriff Valenti’s knowledge about how the authorities operate. Maria whines a lot about being green, but – after Liz sciences the s*** out of the problem – Maria shines at charming her way through an undercover cure-distribution mission at the hospital.
Between this book and the previous one, the authors seem fond of Michael, who shows his own ability to lead and improvise on a mission to dump the cure into the water supply, with reliable Alex and rather whiny Kyle helping out. (In TV form, Nick Wechsler would’ve brought a sardonic tone to blunt the material’s edge.)
In a few brief passages, Max and sometimes Liz fret about the Season 2 love triangle they are in. It might’ve been neat to dig more into how Max feels like he’s lost his connection with his soul mate, making Tess seem like an appealing alternative. But mostly this is a plot-driven novel.
Aside from the typos, the book doesn’t get anything wrong, and the way everyone comes together to solve this problem is exactly what you’d expect. The story also adds another consequence to the Gandarium problem. But considering there was room for more depth – perhaps a layered commentary about the US’s history of racism – “Little Green Men” is slighter than it should be.