Despite the fact that “The X-Files” lends itself to standalone mystery novels, the franchise went 18 years between “Skin” (1999) and “Origins: Agent of Chaos” (2017). Kami Garcia’s novel is a sequel to her short story “Black Hole Son” from one year earlier – my favorite from the “Truth is Out There” anthology — although it’s not necessary to read it to understand the novel.
I might be affected by the sheer novelty of finally reading another “X-Files” novel, but I found “Agent of Chaos” to be pretty great. Mulder is staying with his father in DC in the summer before his final year of high school. Phoebe Larson, his best friend and crush from “Black Hole Son,” visits him, taking an earlier flight than they’d planned because she’s concerned Mulder is again falling into his obsession: trying to save a kidnapped little girl because he couldn’t save his sister, Samantha, from abduction five years earlier.
The author masterfully writes Mulder-at-17 while also capturing the 1979 analog vibe – a map where their destination town is not shown, pay phones, new-age meetings, newsletters and “Dungeons & Dragons.” Mulder’s DC-based bestie, Gimble, is a big “D&D” player, and the interaction between the three teens keeps the pages turning. Gimble is awestruck by Phoebe, who is both attractive and a nerd, very much a novelty in 1979. As with his later relationship with Scully, Mulder only shows his love of Phoebe when a potential rival comes into play.
Garcia knows her “X-Files” lore, and “Agent of Chaos” ultimately ties into Mulder’s profile of serial killer Monte Propps – a document that’s internally famous at the FBI, as mentioned in the pilot episode – in clever fashion. X — whose first name is Reggie, we learn – also plays a significant role, and Garcia captures his mad-at-the-world nature. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is on board, too, in appropriately peripheral fashion.
Granted, there is a slight “George Lucas in Love” vibe to some of the backstory revelations, in the sense of Mulder’s inspiration being a very direct correlation. For example, Gimble’s dad is an alien conspiracy theorist, as Mulder would later become. Also, the way Mulder decides on a college and a field of study is almost hilariously straightforward.
That said, nothing feels cheesy. Gimble’s dad, who Gimble calls “The Major,” has had something snap in his brain for sure. He calls Mulder “airman” and demands code phrases to grant entrance into his house. He’s not as “normal” of a conspiracy theorist as Mulder would become.
Some readers might be turned off by “Agent of Chaos’ ” slight young-adult vibe, but I think it fits since Mulder is indeed a young adult. There’s also the problem wherein we know that Mulder is not going to get any satisfaction in the Samantha case, but that’s unavoidable, and at any rate, the point is to show Mulder’s personality.
The case itself plays out in that uniquely “X-Files”-ian way wherein Mulder solves part of it, and further details continue after the closing credits. That wouldn’t usually work for a novel, but it does here because it ties into the Monty Propps legend in such a cool way.
I’d like to see Garcia write more Young Mulder novels. Throughout “Black Hole Son” and “Agent of Chaos,” I couldn’t help but picture Phoebe Larson – even though she is clearly described as being an American from Mulder’s hometown of Martha’s Vineyard — as having red hair like Phoebe Green, Mulder’s British gal pal from his Oxford years who shows up in Season 1’s “Fire.” It’d be cool to see that flame rekindled in another prequel novel.