Book Review—The First Cylinder by Joseph Dougherty

Book Review

The First Cylinder by Joseph Dougherty

Fayetteville Mafia Press, 2023

The First Cylinder is a hilarious science fiction novel, but also one that’s a shrewd metaphor for the absurdity of human behavior. Remember H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds? Even if you didn’t read it, most people have seen Steven Spielberg’s 2005 movie, with Tom Cruise, or perhaps even George Pal’s 1953 version with Gene Barry. It’s an enduring story. The First Cylinder is about the same Martian invasion of Earth portrayed in the original novel and the later films, but told in first person by Vvv, one of the Martians.  The Introduction to the story has echoes of  Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds,  which convinced a large number of listeners that they were hearing a real invasion as it was happening. In the case of the novel, the Introduction is supposedly written by an executive of a publishing company, which typically published cookbooks, and details how the author brought the story to them in 1901and convinced them to publish it. An Afterward, purportedly by the author in his fictional persona as a newspaper reporter in 1900, details how the manuscript fell into his hands as an account of the Martian invasion by Vvv, dictated after his death through a medium in a series of seances.

Vvv is a hapless Martian invader, conscripted by the Martian government in a hastily and ill-planned attempt to extend their dying civilization to a new planet, but perhaps just as an activity designed to distract and pacify the Martian citizenry. The Martians are more clueless than hostile and have no idea that the humans they meet are intelligent beings and members of a highly developed civilization. They see them as Earth versions of the “cardos” they consume as a domesticated species of animal on their home planet. In fact, in their first encounter with humans, the Martians stick a straw into them and suck out their blood and innards, as they are used to doing with their own cardos, some of whom they brought with them, but who died during the flight.

Vvv tells a story, beginning with a crash landing that kills his cylinder’s pilot and the group’s leader as well as the cardos on board. He and his fellow crew members are stuck on Earth, without food, realizing that their cylinder, which was more or less shot toward Earth as a projectile, offers no means to return home. Because of the Martians’ strong ethno- and planet-centric bias, it never occurs to them that they will encounter a species that is intelligent, resourceful and lives in a civilized society, and they don’t recognize human civilization as such when they encounter it. By the end of the story, they are only just realizing their misconceptions. Up to that point, they still see humans as a slightly more intelligent version of their own cardos and have roamed our planet destroying  everything they see in order to find food and clear the way for more Martians to come later. There are strong echoes of European imperialism and ethnocentric racial superiority throughout the book.

Besides becoming infected from Earth bacteria and viruses and dying one by one until only Vvv is left, the Martians, in a final revelation to Vvv, get their ultimate comeuppance when, in a vision, their race’s origin is revealed. I won’t say what that is, because it might spoil the story for some, but suffice it to say that it strikes a death blow to the Martians’ overblown assessment of their own place in the universe and the superiority of their race. In this sense, The First Cylinder is a parable, more about humans, than about fictional Martians.

Joseph Dougherty is an Emmy-award winning screenwriter, and The First Cylinder appears to be his first venture into authoring a sci-fi novel. He has produced one of the most clever and original novels within the genre. It’s great fun and a worthwhile read.

Many great works of science fiction contain future worlds, alien cultures or non-human races that are, in fact, metaphors for humans and our society. Prime Directive is just such a novel. With a crew of androids searching the galaxy for life, the adventures of Ezekiel and the Delphi crew draw many parallels with the quandaries our own race faces here on Earth in the 21st century. Treat yourself to an intriguing read. Get Prime Directive on Amazon Click Here.

Subscribe to Casey Dorman’s Newsletter. Click HERE