Books That Will Scratch Your RESIDENT ALIEN Itch
I started watching Syfy’s Resident Alien because I felt like I needed more Alan Tudyk in my life.
Sure, I could have watched Encanto again (and I will), in which he provides the voice of Pico the Toucan. But I missed the casual humor and physical comedy he’d brought to previous (human) roles and I didn’t feel like allowing Serenity to break my heart all over again.
What I’m trying to say is that, though I’m typically a fan of the dark and twisted, I was at a point in my life where I just needed to laugh.
And I’d already finished all of Schitt’s Creek.
Resident Alien is about an extraterrestrial whose spaceship crashes on earth while he’s on a mission to blow up all humans. Though he tries to lay low after the crash, assuming another man’s identity as he figures out next steps, he finds himself slowly absorbed into the day-to-day life of the small town in which he now resides. And, well, things get complicated.
What I didn’t expect when I began watching the series was for its giddy hilarity to so instantly charm me. And once I got deeper into the show, I was surprised to find its exploration of humanity to be pretty goddamn touching.
As I write this, I’ve finished marathoning the first season and am now watching the second season in real-time. But having to wait a week between episodes is…a lot?
If you feel the same, you might appreciate this list I’ve put together of books and stories that are like Resident Alien. Because while you could just read the comic that inspired the show, I find that some of these other titles are a little bit better at scratching that RA itch.
The Humans by Matt Haig
Of all the titles on this list, this one hews most closely to the plot and tone of the show. An alien comes to Earth in order to kill a mathematician who has made a significant discovery…one that would give human beings access to the larger universe. But as the alien steps into the mathematician’s life in order to determine whether he shared this powerful discovery with anyone else, he finds himself developing complicated feelings for the man’s family…and questioning everything he thinks he knows about humanity. In fact, as he continues to gain more intel, he finds himself becoming more human. Can this be possible? Can he complete his mission? On top of the parallels in plot, the alien’s personality is similar to that of RA‘s protagonist, giving the story a level of humor that had me LOL-ing every few pages.
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Incredibly different in tone, this sci-fi classic turns the idea of an alien come to Earth on its head. In Heinlein’s book, a human who has spent his entire life on Mars, raised by Martians, is brought back to Earth, where he must learn what it is to be a man. While this book doesn’t necessarily bring the laughs, it does raise interesting questions about what it means to be human…or alien, for that matter.
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
While Resident Alien certainly has its share of action and intrigue, most of its plot revolves around small-town shenanigans. Chu’s novel, on the other hand, is action-packed, placed as it is in the midst of a war between two alien races who are poised to wipe out the entire human race as they each struggle to get off-planet. I include it here for its sense of humor, found when a top-ranking alien who hops between human vessels ends up in the body of an out-of-shape IT tech, whom he must train to be a high-level secret agent.
The Nice House on the Lake by James Tynion IV, Alvaro Martinez Bueno, and Jordie Bellaire
I’d classify this comic series as more horror than sci-fi, but it does feature an alien who’s been living on Earth — in human form — for years, unbeknownst to his fully human friends. I don’t want to reveal too much, but when the alien these folks know as Walter gathers them all together for a getaway at a gorgeous lake house, they find it hard to refuse him. But soon enough, this bucolic setting turns dark, and everything they’ve ever known comes into question. I have been loving this horror comic from DC’s Black Label imprint (see: my love of dark and twisted), and while it’s far from the goofy good times of RA, it does deliver on the theme of an alien living undercover among us.
All Seated on the Ground by Connie Willis
Connie Willis is a highly prolific sci-fi/fantasy writer with a hilarious sense of humor. In her 2007 novella All Seated on the Ground, she leans into the ridiculous with the story of a commission that’s been brought together to deal with a group of aliens who have landed on Earth in order to…well, no one knows. They’re just standing there, glaring disapprovingly, and all attempts to communicate with them have failed. As the commission gets increasingly desperate, taking the aliens on field trips to the mall and to sporting events and the like, the story grows ever more ludicrous. If you’re looking for pure laughs built around a first contact story, this is your best bet. This novella has also been collected in The Best of Connie Willis.
“Chanclas & Aliens” by Gina Ruiz
Since I’ve included a novella, why not throw some short stories into the mix? This one by Gina Ruiz — about a group of Chicano folks forced to deal with a sudden alien invasion — made me giggle, even as it played with the fact that the saviors of Earth were those that white Americans often refer to as “aliens.” You can find this story for free on Ruiz’s website, but it also appears in Ban This! the BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature, a powerful collection of, well, modern Xican@ literature.
“The Great Silence” by Ted Chiang
Another short story (which can be found for free on Electric Literature, and which also appears in Chiang’s riveting Exhalation collection), this one has a quieter sense of humor. The story is narrated by a parrot who questions the lengths humans go to in order to make contact with “intelligent life.” As the humans beam messages out into the universe that go unanswered, the parrot observes, “We’re a nonhuman species capable of communicating with them. Aren’t we exactly what humans are looking for?”
As Karen Jow Fowler writes on Electric Literature in her introduction to the piece, “Why … are we so interested in finding intelligence in the stars and so deaf to the many species who manifest it here on earth?” It’s a question that’s sometimes hinted at, albeit beneath the surface, on Resident Alien.
The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet by Vandana Singh
This collection of short stories is filled with characters who come up against the uncanny again and again. A woman who thinks she has been inhabited by small, alien creatures. Another who catches a glimpse of what may be a spaceship. Yet another who often finds herself feeling adrift, out of place, wondering if she is, in fact, from another planet. What seems to connect all of these stories is the protagonists’ lack of fulfillment in their lives. A sense that they don’t quite belong. It’s a feeling the protagonist of Resident Alien grapples with as he finds himself becoming, much to his own horror, more human than alien.
The Girl from the Sea by Molly Knox Ostertag
This graphic novel may seem like an odd inclusion, as there are no extraterrestrials to be found in its pages. But, for me, it carries some of the same elements of Resident Alien. In this charming tale, a 15-year-old girl who feels she has to hide her attraction to other girls meets and falls in love with a mermaid. The mermaid transforms herself into a human so that they can spend time together on land, though she struggles to fit in. The secrets both girls are carrying (even beyond the whole secret mermaid thing) are at the heart of this story. Which, when it comes to the protagonist of RA: Same. He has nothing but secrets that he’s forced to keep from the residents of his temporary hometown, and his difficulties in fitting in don’t make things any easier.
The Other Doctor Gilmer by Benjamin Gilmer
If you thought the last book pick was odd, you’re really going to scratch your head at this one. But when I first saw the book description for this recently released title, my mind just went there.
So, in Resident Alien, the protagonist (the alien) kills Dr. Harry Vanderspiegel and steps seamlessly into his life. As we get deeper into the series, we learn that the original good doctor may not have been as good as he first seemed.
In Gilmer’s true crime book, a doctor joins a rural health clinic only to find that his predecessor shared his same last name. Not only that, but the doctor he’s replaced — a man once beloved by the community — left the practice after it was discovered that he had murdered his father.
I mean, the author uses the book to explore mental illness and the limitations of carceral justice. But!
Maybe I’ve been watching too much Resident Alien…
If you’re super into alien contact books and want more, I recommend checking out these first contact books, this second list of first contact stories, and this list of books about alien invasions, encounters, and more.