Never let it be said that IDW hasn’t been making the most of the X-Files license. In addition to the ongoing The X-Files: Season 10/Season 11 comic series, a number of spinoff comic miniseries and annuals, and even a big-box board game, the publisher has now released its first X-Files short story anthology, featuring 15 new X-Files stories, each penned by a different author and spanning 25 years of Mulder and Scully’s history.
The authors chosen for this first volume (a follow-up is currently planned) consist of newcomers to the X-Files world as well as those who have a history with the property such as Kevin J. Anderson, author of some of the X-Files novels from the 90’s, and Paul Crilley, who recently wrote a number of the Lone Gunmen-focused X-Files Conspiracy crossover comics for IDW.
So, with over 20 years of X-Files fanfic floating around various internet archives, how does this official paperback version stack up? Let’s find out!
I’ll be writing up little mini-reviews of each story as I make my way through the book and split my reviews up into three groups of five as I go so that each story can be addressed individually. Then in Part 3, I’ll offer my final thoughts on the collection. But to start, I’ll provide brief summaries for the first five stories and then offer more detailed thoughts (and nitpicks) after the jump!
Stories 1 – 5
When four kids go missing and are found in a strange, catatonic state, an early Season 2 Mulder enlists the help of his former partner, Dana Scully, to get to the bottom of what’s happened to them and hopes that his current partner, Alex Krycek, won’t get in the way…
2. The Beast of Little Hill
A late Season 2 Mulder and Scully take a little trip to investigate a small town with a history of UFO sightings and a couple of residents who claim to have dead aliens in their freezers.
Skinner must defend the X-Files division from falling victim to budget cuts and ends up solving an X-File of his own along the way…
In a story set in 2015, Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of some teenagers who had gone in search of a Twilight-inspired vampire.
5. Loving the Alien
It’s early Season 5, Scully’s cancer is in remission, and Mulder doesn’t know if he believes in aliens anymore. But when Scully loses contact with Mulder after he travels to a small town to investigate claims of an alien sighting, it’s up to her to solve the mystery of his disappearance and make sure they both make it out of there in one piece.
Now onto the reviews!
1. Catatonia by Tim Lebbon
Casefile story that held my attention throughout. This story won points with me for taking place between Sleepless and Duane Barry, in the brief period when Mulder was partnered with Krycek and the X-Files division was shut down. We get a rebellious Mulder and Scully investigating stuff that they shouldn’t be with Krycek tagging along uninvited. The pacing was good and it had the feel of an episode of the TV show. The paranormal element was appropriately mysterious, disturbing, and threatening. For the shippers in the crowd, the shippiness level was pretty decent for a pre-abduction arc MOTW in that innocent-hand-holding and being-in-danger-together kind of way.
Nitpicks: Mulder’s “You sound sexy when you’re angry” at the beginning of the story seemed a bit too direct for Mulder’s style of jokingly flirting with Scully, especially for taking place in early Season 2. Might have worked in a certain tone of voice, but there wasn’t really any direction for how those lines should have been read. It also seemed a little out of place for Krycek to call Mulder “Spooky,” since at this point he was still trying to earn his trust. It’s also obvious that the author is from the UK, which isn’t generally a problem, but when British English wording occasionally sneaks into Mulder or Scully’s dialogue, it can take you out of the story. Not a huge problem, but enough for me to take notice. For this one, I’m not going to nitpick about the story’s October date conflicting with dates in the show because I’m pretty sure that the original date of Scully’s abduction was later retconned, anyway.
Overall it may not be anything groundbreaking, but it’s a solid casefile that’s made more memorable for taking place during a unique period in the show’s history.
2. The Beast of Little Hill by Peter Clines
The second story again has Mulder and Scully doing their own thing, though this time as a bit of a recreational side project, at least on Mulder’s part. The story takes place in small town and is a little more lighthearted than the first but still tugs at the heartstrings a bit at the end. Mulder and Scully feel perfectly in place for the late Season 2 timeframe, and the author has their voices down well with their easy banter standing out as a highlight of the story. Nothing especially shippy going on here, but like the first story, Mulder and Scully are together nearly the whole time, which is always a plus.
3. Oversight by Aaron Rosenberg
In our third story, Skinner saves the X-Files from… accounting? It was refreshing to see a story from Skinner’s perspective, and I liked the angle of him having to defend the X-Files division to the accounting department, because realistically, that was probably always a concern within the FBI, even before it came up in Requiem. The timing of the “X-File” component of the story is perhaps a bit too convenient, but these are short stories (and this one is shorter than most of the others), so I’ll let that slide. It was interesting trying to see Skinner think like Mulder, though maybe he solved this one a little too quickly and neatly. Mulder only appears in this story via a phone conversation with Skinner, but it was interesting seeing Skinner use Mulder as a source more like Mulder might run something by the Lone Gunmen rather than letting him solve the case.
The biggest “oversight” (I’m sorry) in this story has to be in regard to the timeline. All of the stories conveniently tell you when they take place at the very beginning, which, considering that these stories span anywhere from 1990 to 2015, is very useful for mentally putting yourself in the correct place within the series timeline when you first start reading. This story says it takes place in December of 1994, which should place it shortly after Scully’s return from her abduction, but it feels like it should be more of a mid-series story with the way Skinner describes his thoughts on the value of the X-Files, at one point saying that his opinion toward it had changed “over the past few years.” I suppose the author wanted to make sure it took place when Skinner was still definitely married to Sharon (who is mentioned a number of times, though she never actually appears), since she seems to be out of the picture after season 3, but I feel like placing this story in season 3 would still make more sense than season 2.
But all that isn’t really a big deal. The one thing that really took me out of the story when I read it was when Skinner was apparently able to do a “quick search” for something on his 1994 cell phone. The “quick” part would have been a challenge on a 2004 flip phone, but in 1994, you were lucky if you could get a quick dial-up connection on your computer to browse through some newsgroups, let alone get a decent signal just to make a phone call on a brick of a 90s cell phone. (To be fair, there was a touchscreen cell phone released in 1994, the IBM Simon, that was capable of receiving email, but even so, Skinner wouldn’t have been able to search the internet on it.) I’m kind of surprised that one wasn’t caught in editing, and I’m sure the author could have come up with some other method of Skinner identifying that quote that was more appropriate for the timeframe. I may have gotten a little too hung up on that one, but I found it particularly jarring.
4. Dusk by Paul Crilley
Our fourth story brings us to the present day (-ish… we’ll get to that in a moment), with a story set in 2015. Paul Crilley is no stranger to writing The X-Files, as he was one of the forces behind IDW’s The X-Files: Conspiracy crossover miniseries, which was set loosely in the continuity of IDW’s Season 10 comics, and this story seems to take a cue from that with Mulder and Scully back at the FBI (and still definitely a couple).
This one is probably the most “fun” story so far, as Mulder and Scully investigate the disappearance of teenage girls who had been in search of a Twilight-inspired vampire. Putting a paranormal twist on a pop-culture phenomenon feels very much in line with a number of classic X-Files episodes, and it’s fun to see that in a modern context. The writing style also has a light, humorous tone to it, which definitely got a couple of laughs out of me. While I was reading it, I had wondered if Crilley had written the X-Files/Transformers crossover issue that featured an unexpectedly amusing friendship between Langley and Bumblebee and wasn’t the least bit surprised when I confirmed that to be the case. The story is also a bit self-aware at the end, essentially recognizing itself as sanctioned fanfic, but this fits in with the themes and tone of the story, so it doesn’t feel any more out of place than when the TV show playfully poked fun of the FOX network.
The only real nitpick I have again goes back to the timeline, though I didn’t find it quite as jarring as Skinner’s magical internet-connected 1994 cell phone. The text before the story’s intro places the date at “16th May, 2015,” which would place it just a couple of months before the book’s July release. Unfortunately, there are a couple of problems with this, most notably that this story specifically references the date in the text… and that ain’t it. It’s 2015, sure, that’s mentioned specifically, but it is also very obviously winter, and the story’s teaser specifically states that it takes place three days before Christmas, with Mulder and Scully picking up the case the following Monday. Of course, it also states in the text that they’re picking up the case two days later, which would be Christmas Eve, and also not a Monday. However, two days after May 16th would have been a Monday. So, the two legends match up, just not with the time of year presented in the text (the case’s proximity to Christmas isn’t particularly important to the story, but winter weather is mentioned several times). I guess it’s not impossible for it to be snowing in May in the northeast, but it feels a bit off. But perhaps the date was moved to May to avoid the other problem with a December 2015 date: The fact that this future date (as of the book’s publishing) may not fit in with the ongoing X-Files continuity. Chances are that when the story was originally written, news of an X-Files television revival had yet to be announced, and the only ongoing X-Files continuity was the Season 10 comics. Of course, Season 10 ended back in June, and the status quo has now changed for Season 11, which would launch a month after the release of this story collection. While it may still be possible to return to the old setup of Mulder and Scully working together at the FBI, still in a stable relationship, it seems unlikely to happen within that timeframe, especially if Season 11 will eventually be tied into the upcoming event series. Changing the date to May prevents any possible future continuity conflicts, at least as far as the IDW continuity is concerned, but it probably would have made more sense to set the story earlier in the year and remove the reference to Christmas so that the winter weather didn’t seem out of place.
But despite all that… don’t let the nitpicky date stuff take away your enjoyment of the story. This is a fun read that stays entertaining throughout.
5. Loving the Alien by Stefan Petrucha
The fifth story takes us to early Season 5 with a post-cancer arc Scully and a Mulder who’s not so sure if he believes in aliens anymore after his apparent deception in the Season 4 finale and 2-part Season 5 premiere. The story is told in first person from Scully’s point of view and does a great job of addressing her state of mind when she loses contact with Mulder and needs to track him down and make sure he’s OK. It’s something that’s happened several times in the series, and it’s interesting seeing it from the perspective of what’s going on in Scully’s head as she needs to puzzle out where he might be and what could have happened to him. Scully is written well, and her state of mind and complicated feelings toward Mulder are perfectly fitting of the timeframe. The only timeline-related nitpick I have is that 1997 seems a bit early for a GPS device to come along with a rental car. GPS was obviously around, but I think it would still be a few years before it became common for public use (though perhaps it didn’t actually come with the rental and was FBI-issued). But aside from that, the references, both to the show’s internal timeline and to the real world, seemed to fit well. The mystery and the supernatural element were interesting, though the end felt a bit rushed, and I found myself wanting to see more interaction between Scully and Mulder once they were finally reunited. It isn’t that the somewhat abrupt conclusion of the story followed by what basically amounts to a voiceover that tries to wrap things up and explain what was going on isn’t in line with a number of episodes of the TV show, but the more personal nature of the ending just left me wanting a tiny bit more. That said, this has still been one of my favorites so far with strong writing and good characterization making me care about Scully’s journey every step of the way.
And that’s all for now! So far, despite some nitpicks, these have been a fairly solid collection of case files. From this first batch of stories, Dusk and Loving the Alien stand out as definite favorites.
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