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[Books] The X-Files: Trust No One Anthology – Mini Reviews – Part 3

Here’s the final collection of mini-reviews for the X-Files short story anthology, Trust No One.  I reviewed stories 1-5 in Part 1 and stories 5-10 in Part 2.  The book can be purchased on Amazon.com as a standard paperback, Kindle book, or audio book.

Again, we’ll start with the summaries, and then the full reviews can be found below.  Let’s finish this!

Stories 11 – 15

11.  Clair de Lune

Caught in a blizzard while escorting an extradited prisoner from Canada to the US, Mulder and Scully are warned that keeping the prisoner in their company could have deadly consequences.

12.  It’s All in the Eyes

Mulder and Scully are called in to investigate two murders on Halloween that appear to have been committed by a animatronic doll.

13.  The House on Hickory Hill

Mulder and Scully join the investigation into the kidnapping of a teenage girl from a supposedly haunted house when a ransom note is found signed in the blood of the long-dead former occupant.

14.  Time and Tide

After three teens go missing, Mulder and Scully are drawn to a strange pair of windows in the side of a cliff, one of which appears to transport anyone who climbs out of it into another time.

15.  Statues 

In Death Valley, a desperate man crashes his car and appears to turn to solid stone in front of a number of witnesses, leading Mulder and Scully on a search for their own real-life Medusa.

Now onto the reviews!

Mini-Reviews

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11. Clair de Lune by David Benton and W.D. Gagliani

Note: This story was dedicated to the memory of Charles L. Grant who wrote the 1990s X-Files novels Goblins and Whirlwind and passed away in 2006. A sweet and fitting tribute.

This was one of the shorter stories, but it throws us right into the action as Mulder and Scully try their luck driving across the Canadian border after their flight back to the US is canceled. This seems to be a good place in the book for a nice claustrophobic story as Mulder and Scully are trapped in a snowstorm with a man who may or may not be a werewolf. I enjoyed the quick pace and the banter between Mulder and Scully, though some of the dialogue did seem to be worded a little awkwardly. I also had a hard time imagining Mulder especially, being so unsympathetic toward the prisoner when he believed that he could have been afflicted with such a condition, though to be fair, we don’t really get to see any of their interaction before we see him annoying the hell out of them with his screaming and mumbling on their car ride. This is another story that takes advantage of the print medium to depict things that are maybe a little gorier than what could have been shown on TV.

And now for our infamous timeframe nitpicks! The timeframe given at the start of the story is October of 1994, which would place it either during or just before Scully’s abduction, depending on if you go with the original or retconned timeline. Either way, though, Mulder and Scully wouldn’t have technically been partners during this time (this is also placed about a week before the date given to the first story in the book, where Mulder and Scully were not officially partners). That said, the timeframe seems to be placed rather arbitrarily. A late Season 1 episode is referenced, but other than that, this story could probably take place at any other point in the series where Mulder and Scully are reporting to Skinner.

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12. It’s All in the Eyes by Heather Graham

Okay, I have to admit, I had a hard time with this one. This is the first story in this collection that I just flat out didn’t like. Usually if I’m reading X-Files fanfic, the moment I see “Fox” and “Dana” being thrown around haphazardly, I’m out. Close the browser tab, time to move on. But I paid for these stories, damn it. And I’ve already committed to these reviews at this point, so I suffered through it. For you. I do it all for you.

The story begins, so imaginatively, the night before Halloween. A horror prop apparently comes to life and attacks a store clerk, and some people die. Oh, and the only thing in the vicinity of this store full of fancy Halloween decorations is, conveniently, an old church and graveyard. Dead bodies everywhere. Most of them were already dead, but whatever. Don’t worry, the “crime scene people” will take care of it, I’m sure.

I just couldn’t get into the writing. It felt… generic. The descriptions of the characters and setting lacked detail and everything felt very vague, as if to let the imagination fall back on tired cliches. The dialogue tended to be clunky and unnatural. Too many long sentences filled with unnecessary words that normal people don’t use in casual conversation. And the hyphens, my god. Hyphens everywhere. It’s a stylistic choice, I know, but it wasn’t working for me. All in all, the writing seemed like it was intended for a much younger audience than the rest of the book. The obvious seemed over-explained, but anything that could have used a bit of an explanation didn’t seem worth the effort. Too much telling, not enough showing.

In these reviews, I’ve tended to stay away from giving away the ending to most of these stories, as not to spoil them completely. But this one, I don’t even care. Weird snake-eyed alien slug things that control people? I think? And a portal… to… I don’t know, Hell, maybe? Their alien slug spaceship? I dunno, but they sure were evil, I guess?

And let’s talk about Mulder and Scully, or “Fox” and “Dana” as they’re so liberally referred to in the text. And you know what, I can do the occasional “Fox” and “Dana.” Those are their names, after all. But the moment you have Scully actually refer to Mulder as “Fox,” you just lose all credibility. And yeah, Mulder does call Scully by her first name occasionally, but three times in such a short story for no particular reason seemed a bit much. But these seemed like very surface-level depictions of Mulder and Scully that just didn’t ring true to the characters. Beside the awkward dialogue and random usage of first names, they seemed like flat and undeveloped characters, as if someone had heard the premise of the show and figured, “Okay, Mulder is supposed to believe everything he hears and Scully is supposed to deny it. But they’re such great partners!” The text tells us how good they are together, but it doesn’t really do anything to show it in a meaningful way. The story is missing anything like the cute, quirky moments we saw between them in Dusk or the heartfelt devotion that Scully demonstrated while looking for Mulder in Loving the Alien. It just feels shallow.

Oh, and we haven’t talked about the timeline yet! The year assigned to this story is 2009, making it one of the two stories in this collection to take place after the end of the series (and after I Want To Believe). With the other post-series story, Dusk, internal date issues aside, I felt that it worked because it otherwise lined up with IDW’s Season 10 comics’ continuity, in which Mulder and Scully rejoined the FBI sometime around 2013 after being prompted by a revived alien threat and concern for William’s safety. In this story, however, we get no explanation for why Mulder and Scully are back in the FBI in 2009. But with the history of these timestamps sometimes seemingly being assigned to stories at random, was 2009 even the intended setting for this story? There really doesn’t seem to be much to indicate a year, other than Mulder and Scully *may* be more than just partners here, though the exact state of their relationship isn’t explicitly mentioned. If you were to tell me that this story took place in late Season 7, I’d probably buy it more than 2009. Maybe the author heard that Mulder and Scully ended up together but didn’t bother to watch the last couple of seasons or second movie? I don’t know. Also, Scully apparently doesn’t believe in aliens here. By the end of the series, Scully most definitely believed in aliens. If she didn’t buy that these weird slug things were aliens, that’s cool. Knowing the history of aliens on The X-Files, I don’t really buy it, either. But the concept of an alien being that can take over someone’s body should be familiar to even a mid-series Scully, let alone Scully in 2009, if this actually is 2009.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I think I could have forgiven most of these nitpicks on their own, but it ended up being a lot of little things that I found distracting enough to detract from my enjoyment. I’m trying to find some positives in here, and while the story didn’t really work at all for me, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will feel the same way. There were a couple of nice lines here and there, I suppose, and probably some nice imagery in the beginning for those who really like Halloween decorations. And while the Mulder/Scully interaction fell flat for me, maybe it would work for some of the less picky shippers out there.

When I first picked up this book, this was the kind of story I was worried we might get, and honestly, I’m so grateful that we got 11 mostly very solid, well-written, well-characterized stories before we got to this one. As it stands, though, this one dud isn’t enough to prevent me from recommending the rest of the book. Moving on!

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13. The House on Hickory Hill by Max Allan Collins

I remember hearing that Max Allan Collins’ novelization of I Want to Believe received some mixed reviews (unrelated to the mixed opinions fans may have on the movie itself), but never having read that adaptation, I can’t really comment either way. I feel that Collins’ contribution to Trust No One, however, is a very solid entry and one of the meatier stories in the book. Mulder and Scully are in character, their dialog feels appropriate, and we’ve got some fun banter between them. This is another story centered around a potentially haunted house, but I personally enjoyed it a bit more than Paranormal Quest. While I had my suspicions about the true antagonist in this one early on, it didn’t feel quite as predictable as the earlier story, and I felt that everything really started clicking in place for me around the same time as it did for Mulder and Scully. The mystery takes its time to unravel and remains unsettling throughout. Overall, I really enjoyed this one. It may not be the most “fun” story in this book, but it had some nice moments between our agents, and it was a strong, dark mystery casefile.

Timeline nitpicks! (I should have just made this a standard section of each review.) I don’t recall if a specific year was given in the story for when the main action takes place, but the original murder in the house took place in 1979, so the 1997 date given at the beginning of the story would seem to be appropriate given this story’s timeline. The December 29th date, however, does contradict the show’s timeline, as Scully and Mulder should still be in San Diego during the events of the episode Emily, and none of that story arc plays any part in this. Of course, that doesn’t even really matter, because that initial date stamp directly contradicts the VERY FIRST LINE in the story, which clearly states that this story takes place in mid-November. Seriously, it’s stated like six words into the story. I’d really like to have a word with the editors.

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14. Time and Tide by Gayle Lynds and John C. Sheldon

I really wasn’t crazy about the characterizations in this one. Scully was almost unrecognizable. She attempted no scientific explanation for what was going on, barely challenged Mulder, and seemed to buy into the weirdness of the situation without question. Mulder’s insistence at the end that they make up a cover story also seemed extremely out of character for him, and for Scully to some degree, too. You would think that they would want to further investigate this phenomenon and try to figure out what caused it despite the danger that posed. It seems that they would owe that much to Gorman, who, by the way, didn’t seem to be bothered nearly enough by what had happened to him. I’m honestly not sure why Gorman seemed to be taking orders from Mulder in the first place. Their dialogue, while not particularly painful, generally seemed to be rather bland.

The one thing this story has going for it is the danger and mystery of the situation, and it was enough to keep me engaged, but there wasn’t really any kind of satisfactory pay-off. We never really find out what the main antagonist is, why it does what it does, why it has its particular weakness, what’s up with the time travel, or why the one window in the bunker is the gateway to it. It was an idea that had a lot of potential, but it seemed to get a bit convoluted. I don’t need to have everything explained, but the whole thing just felt underdeveloped. The X-Files rarely just has weird stuff going on for the sake of having weird stuff going on. Mulder “figures it out,” but without Scully bringing her science into it to give it some semblance of credibility, it just feels kind of hollow.

And not to disappoint, here’s this story’s timestamp mess: The date given at the beginning is January 12, 2000, which doesn’t even remotely match anything in the text. The story centers around three kids graduating from high school, and it’s clearly stated to be summer, so definitely not January. At one point Scully estimates that the date roughly 40 years in the future would be 2035, making this story take place closer to 1995 than 2000. Also, in the story it mentions that Scully has never been to Maine before, which would absolutely be untrue in 2000 (hi, Chinga), but could possibly have been true in 1995.

Anyway, not a horrible story, but it didn’t really come together at the end. I got really excited when I saw we would be dealing with time travel and was pretty disappointed by how it was executed. I really wanted to like this one, but the poor characterizations and convoluted, unresolved story elements significantly took away from a story that started out with a ton of potential.

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15. Statues by Kevin J. Anderson 

After a couple of shaky stories in this last set, the book ends on a high note with Kevin J. Anderson’s contribution. Anyone familiar with Anderson’s X-Files novels from the 90’s should have a pretty good idea of what to expect. The X-File is rock solid (I’m sorry), and Mulder and Scully are perfectly in character. The leading timestamp places this story in 1995, though really it could take place anytime during the majority of Mulder and Scully’s partnership.

The two agents stick together for this one, investigating as a team rather than splitting off on their own. We’ve got some fun banter here with plenty of inappropriate quips from Mulder. The pacing is of the standard MOTW variety, and it definitely feels like it could have been an episode of the show. Mulder and Scully find themselves in real danger at the end, leaving the reader wondering how they’re going to make it out alive. All in all, it’s a well-written, solid casefile, and a strong story to go out on.

 

The Verdict…

So, now that we’ve gotten through all 15 stories, was it worth it? In spite of a couple of duds and the baffling timestamp situation, the answer is still yes, without a doubt. The vast majority of stories were engaging and demonstrated expert knowledge of the show and its characters. It was really just “It’s All in the Eyes” and “Time and Tide” where Mulder and Scully felt jarringly unlike themselves, and those stories are probably the weakest because of it (again, a harsh blow to the otherwise fascinating premise of “Time and Tide”). For the most part, though, each story seemed like it would feel at home as an episode of the TV show (though some stories take advantage of the lack of television censorship with the occasional strong language and excessive gore), and I generally got the feeling that this was a collection written by fans for fans.

Since the stories are all stand-alone casefiles, even casual fans looking for a good collection of mystery stories should be able to jump right in without feeling out of place, though there are still a ton of specific references that the more hardcore fans should appreciate. We get nods to Samantha’s abduction, Scully’s cancer, Duane Barry, Skinner’s experiences in Vietnam, Mulder’s pre-X-Files smoking habit, as well as a handful of other references, though the stories themselves are mostly self-contained and don’t veer too far into the show’s ongoing mythology.

Is this collection going to satisfy your average fanfic addict? That’s probably going to be a matter of taste. If you just like a good casefile that’s paced out similarly to an episode of the show, then this will probably hit the spot. But a lot of fanfic readers are looking for the kind of stuff that wouldn’t have been aired, and you’re not going to find anything here that’s really outside the basic premise of the show. No novel-length epics, no smut, no crazy AU stuff, nothing that takes place completely outside of the characters’ lives as FBI agents. That said, despite focusing on casefiles, the stories we’re presented with here do have some nice variety. We have two stories starring Skinner, a story set during Krycek and Mulder’s brief partnership pre-Duane Barry, a story from the perspective of another FBI agent working alongside Mulder and Scully, a first-person story from Scully’s point of view, a story about Mulder and Scully escorting a prisoner over the
Canadian border, Mulder and Scully working overseas, a pre-X-Files Mulder working with Arthur Dales, and a story set in 2015, presumably within the IDW X-Files: Season 10 continuity. The contributing authors may vary in style, but all are competent writers and storytellers, so while the stories might not hold a candle to some of the cream-of-the-crop fanfic recommendations, you’re probably in for a more consistent experience than blindly picking through a general fanfic archive.

While I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of the stories in this collection, my favorites remain the two stand-outs from my first set of reviews: The 2015-set “Dusk” for its humor (and bonus points for the rare glimpse of Mulder and Scully working together as a functioning couple, even if it’s mostly in the background), and the introspective Scully-centric “Loving the Alien,” for its heart.

Overall, I was pretty satisfied with this collection.  The weakest point was probably the editing, but the stories all generally felt like they could have been episodes of the show.  In the next volume, I’d like to see the authors branch out a little more and tackle some other characters and time periods that didn’t get much focus this time around.  In any event, I’m excited to see what a new batch of authors can bring to the table.

The next volume, The X-Files: The Truth is Out There, is currently slated for a February 10, 2016 release and can be preordered on Amazon.

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