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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Die Außerirdischen

Doron Rabinovici

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To purchase Die Außerirdischen

Title: Die Außerirdischen
Author: Doron Rabinovici
Genre: Novel
Written: 2017
Length: 255 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Die Außerirdischen - Deutschland
  • Die Außerirdischen has not yet been translated into English

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Our Assessment:

B : solid and effective, though arguably too simple-schematic

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
NZZ . 4/8/2017 Paul Jandl
Der Standard A- 7/8/2017 Gerhard Zeillinger
Wiener Zeitung . 2/9/2017 Uwe Schütte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Was dann in dem mit 250 Seiten nicht gerade dicken Roman noch folgt, ist die grösste Katastrophendichte in der deutschsprachigen Literatur seit langem. (...) Wo es langgeht, weiss man bei Doron Rabinovici immer. Seine Geschichten liefern einen Metakommentar mit, der noch die wildeste Erfindung auf die soliden Füsse der Parabel stellt. (...) Wenn es sein muss, dann wird eben auch mit dem Holzhammer eine Geschichte konstruiert, die fugenlos recht haben will. Eine Geschichte, deren ganzer moralischer Aufwand dem Traktat manchmal näher ist als der Literatur." - Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Der Roman wird später einmal nicht nur die Literaturwissenschaft kontrovers beschäftigen. (...) Der Einwand, dass diese Geschichte zu direkt, zu glatt erzählt ist, wird jedenfalls kommen, denn für den Leser ist früh absehbar, worauf der Autor hinauswill. Man hätte sich dann einen hintergründigeren Roman gewünscht, so gekonnt gemacht, so spannend und leserfreundlich er auch ist." - Gerhard Zeillinger, Der Standard

  • "Doron Rabinovicis Die Außerirdischen ist mithin ein so ungewöhnlicher wie berechenbarer Roman, der eine interessante Geschichte erzählt, dies aber in wenig anspruchsvoller Sprache. (...) Mit einem Hollywood-Produkt wie The Arrival wird man heutzutage besser bedient als mit diesem Roman. Dabei könnte Literatur durchaus mehr." - Uwe Schütte, Wiener Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The title -- 'The Extraterrestrials' -- seems to leave little doubt about what this novel is about, and the opening line would seem to dispel any: "Sie kamen über Nacht" ('They came by night'). The novel is narrated by Sol; his wife Astrid initially dismisses the media reports, certain it has to be an elaborate War of the Worlds-type hoax. But everyone is reporting the same thing, and when all electrical appliances suddenly stop functioning it seems clear that the unimaginable has happened: technologically far more advanced aliens have arrived on earth.
       From the beginning, there's little sense of who these aliens are: no news of what brings them here, no descriptions of their crafts, technology, or even appearance. When the power goes out soon after their arrival -- closing shops and banks, among much else --, the more immediate concern is survival, as people quickly become desperate and act out accordingly, rampaging and looting; human civilization seems to take not days but merely hours to be on the verge of collapse. But this early, quick slide into the abyss soon comes to a stop, and the old order is quickly (more or less) restored: the story is that aliens merely shut off the power for a while to avert a greater crisis.
       The aliens remain a murky presence, with information perhaps being withheld by the authorities; the public certainly doesn't get any clear idea of what they might be or want. There are public demonstrations, including a huge one aimed at convincing the aliens that humans just want peace and calling for interstellar solidarity -- complete with pop-star anthem, 'We are all aliens'. Finally, there is a brief public appearance where a few of the aliens finally reveal themselves to the world at large at the United Nations, where everyone is astonished to find that they look human -- "Even more human than most of us", someone observes. They only address a few words to the public -- but do claim to come in peace. And:

We all just want to be one thing -- and that is why we're standing here -- to be human !
       That is, however, the last that's heard from them. They don't communicate with the public at large, and if they're in touch with the world's governments, that's kept quiet. They are a presence, but an entirely unknown one. There are just rumors .....
       Just after the aliens arrived, Sol overhears an exchange on the street:
     'I'm not worried about the extraterrestrials.'
     'Rather ?'
     'Of humans. They're the ones I'm afraid of.'
       And Rabinovici demonstrates why those fears are well-founded -- with the aliens' we-just-want-to-be-like-you assertion soon taking on a decidedly dark and creepy meaning.
       Rumors circulate and soon are accepted as fact -- even as the aliens themselves make no public statements or appearances. If they're involved, it's so far behind the scenes that the general public never sees any of it.
       Word spreads that the aliens can promise great technological advances and many benefits to mankind. But they also have this little request ..... Apparently, humans are tasty to them -- something like that, anyway. They'd like to consume some. But they wouldn't feel right just grabbing people at random. It has to be voluntary; the people have to be willing subjects. What's proposed is a contest, for which contestants would volunteer, with grand prizes and the guarantee of a comfortable lifestyle for the victors -- while the losers sacrifice themselves for the greater good. They'll be whisked off to an island, for comfortable last days, and then painlessly euthanized; their heirs will receive generous compensation.
       There's some outrage, but the (human) powers that be go along with it, and the the media companies are eager to broadcast the contests -- which of course immediately attract huge audiences: the world is glued to the spectacles.
       Sol is the co-founder of an online gourmet magazine, smack.com, but they quickly shifted focus in these alien times -- and found much greater success with their new talk show, 'Brandheiß' ('red hot'). They're also quickly on board with these contests, while Sol, already ambivalent about the initial shift, begins to drift even further away from the business.
       Wife Astrid was critical from the start, warning of even just beginning to go down this road; she realizes that by even just putting the idea of such contests up for debate in the talk show, by allowing for a pro and contra, as if there was an acceptable argument for something this outrageous, they were helping to make the whole idea acceptable. Entertaining the possibility helps turn it, almost effortlessly, into a reality -- and, of course, it's all downhill from there.
       Once humanity has left the moral high road, the compromises come hard and fast. After all, if they're not willing to give the extraterrestrials what they want, who knows how the aliens might react ? Couldn't they do far worse things ?
       Possibly, but they're never put to that sort of test. Rabinovici shows that humans can readily work themselves up into acting pretty horribly -- all in the name of the greater good, and supposedly avoiding greater harm -- all by themselves. And that's his point: the aliens don't need to do anything; the humans will do it all to themselves. Thuggishness becomes more widespread, the rule of law perverted. And when the neighbor who is like a son to Astrid and Sol volunteers to participate in the contests, and Astrid desperately wants to save him, their fates are also sealed.
       The Nazi-analogy comes ever closer -- and by the time Sol gets himself deported (by plane, rather than train, though the transport is otherwise similar) and reaches the island-camp where those who have been weeded out are sent it's hard not to see a Nazi concentration camp in it. The irony, of course, is that the community, the humans, made it all possible -- and are doing all the dirty work. The excuse is:
Subjugation is our only chance. Assimilation as capitulation. We as extraterrestrial humans.
       The island resembles, in almost every detail, a (Nazi) work and death camp, with only the weaponry -- and surveillance possibilities (including tracking chips in everyone's earlobes [an unrealistic slip by Rabinovici: the one place you wouldn't implant a tracking chip is in earlobes: removal might be painful, but is otherwise far too easy]) -- the significant differences. Beyond that, in its elemental basics (little and bad food; impossible work demands; filth and vermin), it's all exactly like out of World War II. As are the compromises -- and the morally complicated question of levels of collaboration with the enemy. The human cost is devastating, not only in terms of those lost outright, but for those who live (if one can call it that) and are forced to struggle for survival within this system.
       And, as Sol repeatedly notes, it isn't the aliens who are doing this: man is doing this to man.
       Mirroring all the horror of the worst of the Nazi concentration and death camps, Rabinovici has Sol convinced that: "The crime fed off of going unnoticed". It's not just that Sol is a media-man; Rabinovici himself makes the argument that all that's needed to make things right is to make the world aware of what is happening: that if everyone only knew of these horrors being perpetrated they would rise up against those responsible and put an immediate stop to it. That's also how the novel comes to its semi-happy end: they manage to shine light on the situation, and a shocked world immediately reacts (complete, eventually, with court proceedings against the perpetrators). This is actually the least convincing part of the novel: in contemporary societies abuses abound -- not always on this scale, but too often close enough -- and populations tend to do little more than shrug or voice platitudes of disapproval.
       The main characters manage physical survival, but the damage sits deep; here too Rabinovici shows an aftermath much as that to the Holocaust. Unsettling as it is, the comparison -- drawn so close by Rabinovici -- works well -- even if parts of his lesson perhaps don't: as noted, he seems far too optimistic in suggesting that all it takes is to uncover and reveal the extent of horror to get humanity to (re)act.
       Where the novel works best -- and is eeriest -- is in its treatment of the essentially unseen extraterrestrials. Sol, like the reader, several times wonders whether they even existed at all, and this uncertainty makes the horror all the more effective, allowing for the horrible thought that mankind might have worked itself up into this destructive frenzy all by itself. One rumor about why the aliens then suddenly disappeared -- that they were disgusted by the humans' behavior -- is a particularly nice last twist.
       Die Außerirdischen can feel too simple and schematic, too neatly mirroring familiar recent history -- but that resemblance also makes for a stronger impact. The echoes, as they grow louder and then deafening, certainly hit home. And the use of the extraterrestrials is satisfying and inspired.
       Sol is a somewhat limited character and narrator, making for a very straightforward narrative, descriptive but with only blunted insight. Eventually, of course, he comes to the indescribable, while the simple narration gives the readers more freedom (than s/he may want ...): the novel is meant to be thought-provoking, and one can almost feel the prod of the needle-tip with the each turn.
       If slightly frustrating, Die Außerirdischen is certainly an effective and gripping read, and offers a great deal of food for thought.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 April 2019

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Die Außerirdischen: Reviews: Doron Rabinovici: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian author Doron Rabinovici was born in Tel Aviv in 1961.

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© 2019-2021 the complete review

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