By the start of Sam Sumac’s AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS, Earth has already survived a recent apocalypse: an alien invasion followed by a series of plagues, leaving society in tatters. Hermit-like sci-fi author Ira Hunter had already been living off-grid in coastal Maine for years, but in the space of two days he’s visited by a Buddhist nun and a CIA agent – both informing him that he has a role to play in a grand scheme to save humanity. Although initially game for adventure after years in seclusion, Ira quickly discovers that the CIA team, its short-tempered alien advisor, and some unexpected guests from his past all have their own agendas too.
AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS has one winning quality: a sense of fun buoyed up on off-kilter absurdism. This is most evident in the prose itself, which takes a maximalist approach to the humor: lengthy lists of adjectives, breathless figurative language, the occasional formal shift to encyclopedic accounts of the alien invasion, all pull the reader forward through the text. Unfortunately, the style and tone are also debilitating weaknesses. Metaphors don’t mix per se, but multiple similes frequently abut within cluttered sentences; some of the figurative language is outright cliche; dated historical and cultural references bounce between the commonplace and the obscure without adding much to the text. This is not only a challenge for the reader, but also a missed opportunity: since one character is a long-lived alien who has observed humanity for years, these unusual speech patterns could have acted as a distinguishing linguistic device for the character’s voice instead of an omnipresent source of friction in the narration itself.
Character is the hardest failing of the text. Although some forms of comedy may demand types to play off each other, rather than fully-rounded people, the cast still feels unappealingly flat (and unnecessarily large – multiple teams of CIA agents begin to blend together before the end). For some, this is merely disappointing: Sarah, a Buddhist nun and one of the major characters, is mostly defined by her constant use of aphorism and her status as a sex object. For others, this is downright unpleasant: a Japanese character, who has no bearing on the plot at all and could just as easily have been omitted entirely, is written as a cluster of racial stereotypes and cliches. The plot itself is convoluted, and moves in fits and starts. Especially as the action ramps up, the thin characters make it increasingly difficult to create and fulfill any narrative expectations; the resolution of the plot is essentially a deus-ex-machina daisy chain.
Sam Sumac’s AIN’T NOBODY HERE BUT US CHICKENS is imaginative and light, but without greater attention to storytelling fundamentals, it remains ultimately unsatisfying.
~Dan Accardi for IndieReader