By Ryan Lindsey
“If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn’t want to meet.”
– Stephen King
I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve read a lot of content in my life: books, magazines, comic books, online articles, etc. I read a lot.
I’ve never read anything like Punk Rock vs. The Lizard People though.
Joshua S. Porter’s newest novel novel is a wacky and incredibly fun journey through the perils of teenage angst and rebellion against lizard alien overlords, that’s also masterfully interwoven with lessons about grief, social commentary, and thoughts on all of our individual quests for significance and meaning.
Imagine a world where social media was introduced in the late 1970s, where Jim Henson (yes, that Jim Henson, the Jim Henson of The Muppets) is a dark, revolutionary outlaw; a world were seemingly benevolent vulture-like reptilian aliens have a seemingly-benevolent rule over humanity; a world where punk rock, Stranger Things, and Black Mirror all collide – that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The premise for the book seems fairly simple at first – in the 1970s, alien visitors arrive in Washington D.C. and meet President Gerald Ford. They claim to be entirely benevolent and that their civilization has evolved past the crude acts of conflict and warfare. They promise to help introduce a new ear of peace and technological advancement for humanity, but they must do so gradually – humanity is a fragile flow and if the garden hose is turned on it full blast, it will perish rather than flourish. Of course, on of the first pieces of technology they introduce is the Internet and social media.
Enter our protagonist, 17 year old Danny Thomas – just an 80s teenager nerding out on tech, movies, and music. His group of friends is a bunch of Breakfast Club-esque misfits. None of them fit in with their self-obsessed peers, who occupy them-selves with posting selfies and being “influencers”.
Danny and his friends begin to suspect (with the assistance of a renegade lizard person and some mysterious posts found on the Internet) that the aliens did not actually have the best of intentions when they introduced social media to humanity. This puts them directly at odds with society, their high school classmates, and the alien and human authorities. What follows is a bizarre and extremely entertaining adventure to stop the aliens nefarious plot.
While all these alien hijinks may sound bonkers, the book definitely touches on a variety of heavier topics. The finale dives into a deep examination of the crazy lengths that we will go to to feel significant. The final chapters explore the ways that tragedy effects us and we handle our grief. And predictably, after reading I imagine you’ll be forced to reevaluate your use of social media after wrapping this up – I know I did.
A Nostalgia Trip
I wasn’t alive in the 1980s, so I can’t say that this novel (set in 1987) brought me any sort of deep nostalgic experience. That being said, if you did live through that decade – especially if you were a teenager back then – I’m sure you would have that sort of experience.
Porter was extremely thorough in how he crafted the story’s primary setting (Portland, Oregon, 1987). The cultural references were spot on in every instance, from popular song names to arcade games to leisure activities.
An Obvious Passion Project
Punk Rock vs. The Lizard People is the first installment birthed from Porter’s newest venture, The Word Virus: The Annals of Pestilence. This project is an “anthology of ongoing fiction presented as physical books and through a serialized audiobook podcast”. After reading this book, I’m very excited to see what comes from The Word Virus next.
I’ve kept up with Josh Porter’s artistic career since around 2009, back when he was the frontman for the band Showbread (still my favorite band to this day). I’ve read his previous six books (some of them multiple tipunmes). I’ve followed his various side-projects (check out the music of Church of Agony and the You Hate Movies podcast sometime). For anyone familiar with his previous work, The Word Virus – and this book in particular – are the obvious culmination of his art so far. This books combines so many of the themes and archetypes that flowed through Showbread’s lyrics and the pages of Porter’s previous novels (especially Nevada and An Edict of Worms).
Porter’s adoration of human life, Jesus Christ, skepticism of modern capitalism/ consumerism, and his general punk-rock attitude have all found their home in his newest piece of work.
A Multi-Media Experience
One of the more unique and appreciated features of Punk Rock vs. The Lizard People is that it’s more than just a book to read. Throughout the novel, there are footnotes instructing you to listen to certain songs during certain parts of the story to enhance your experience. I was skeptical that this would be of any benefit at first, but after three songs in I was convinced this was the way to read the book.
Additionally, the entire novel can be listened to in audiobook form, read by Porter himself. Personally, I preferred reading the novel, but I still appreciate the effort Porter went to to make his work accessible to everyone, regarding of reading ability or personal preference.
The only thing that could make this better is if they’d made a movie out of it too.
Ryan Lindsey is the founder and editor of WAL Reader.