Cocoon by David Saperstein
Genre: Adult science fiction
Publisher: Talos Press
Release date: April 2014
Source: Finished paperback from publisher
The nitty-gritty: Not quite like the movie, but a good read all the same, Cocoon has humor and heart to spare.
When I found out that Cocoon is the book that the 1985 Academy Award-winning movie was based on, I was eager to read it. This reprint celebrates the 30th anniversary of the original book, and I thought it was well worth the read. I saw the movie many years ago, and the book brought back some of those magical moments that I remembered. But although the basic premise was the same, the book is actually quite different from the movie—no surprise there! For that reason I was slightly disappointed, because my memories of the film are positive ones, and I was waiting for certain things to happen that never did. For me, it was one of those rare occurrences of the movie being better than the book (and remember, it did win an Academy Award!). However, I found Cocoon, the book, to have lots of heartwarming moments and plenty of humor as well.
And despite the fact that many people may already know how Cocoon ends, I’m going to keep spoilers to a minimum for those who aren’t familiar with the story.
An alien race called the Antareans has returned to Earth after thousands of years to retrieve their 941 soldiers who have been sealed away in “cocoons” and hidden under the ocean, off the coast of Florida. This diplomatic army was hidden on Earth because an asteroid was about to destroy their home planet, but the time has come for them to be revived and join their fellow Antareans. But pollution has caused the cocoons to leak and begin to break down, and the lives of these sleeping Antareans are in danger.
Several Antarean leaders secure a large apartment complex near the water in order to prepare a special room where the soldiers will be awakened, and with the help of a man named Jack Fischer, they begin the slow process of bringing the cocoons to the surface. Jack is paid well for his efforts, but sworn to secrecy, as the Antareans are trying to keep their presence on Earth a secret.
Enter a cantankerous group of senior citizens who have just moved into the retirement complex. Joe, Ben, Art and Bernie are not having much fun with retired life and looking for something to keep them going. Joe has leukemia, and although a new medication has worked in the past, he’s been feeling more and more tired, and he’s afraid that the end might be near. One day, as they are exploring a part of the complex still under construction, they discover a “health spa” with “steam rooms” that make them feel young again. Unbeknownst to the men, this is the room where the Antareans bring the cocoons to be opened, and the unfamiliar equipment is actually meant to revive and feed the aliens.
They aim to keep their incredible spa a secret, but it’s not long before the Antareans figure out what’s going on. Now Joe and his friends have a very important choice to make, one which will impact the rest of their lives.
The story moves back and forth between Jack and the Antareans he’s helping, and the group of retirees. The chapters are very short, so the constant change of POV was somewhat jarring. I have to say I enjoyed the sections with Joe, Ben, Art and Bernie and their wives the best, and I found myself almost skimming those sections spent with the Antareans, where Saperstein goes into great detail explaining what the alien equipment looks like, how it works, and the history of the Antarean people. It was very dry stuff, and I honestly wanted to get back to the humans, who were much more interesting to me.
One of my favorite parts of Cocoon was getting to know the backstories of the characters. The author lovingly tells us how each of the men met their wives, what they did for a living, and how they ended up in the retirement complex. Saperstein could have easily written an alien invasion story without going into the lives of the humans, but by doing so, he made his story much more relatable.
And boy, was this book funny! One of the side effects of visiting the “spa” turns out to be a renewal of the men’s sexual vigor. Suddenly, they find themselves horny as hell, and you can imagine what that means for their poor wives! The women, who haven’t had sex for years in some cases, find themselves practically being attacked by their husbands. Saperstein did a great job making this all very believable, since the women are in their seventies and eighties, and talking about sex, even with your best friends, can be tricky and embarrassing. When Rose, Alma, Bess and Mary meet to discuss how strange their husbands are behaving, the dialog really rang true for me.
About two-thirds of the way into the book, the story started to lose me. There is a point where some of the fringe characters, in particular Jack’s girlfriend Julie, start to become suspicious of what Jack is doing all night on his boat, and at that point Cocoon becomes a game of cat and mouse, where the Antareans are trying to finish up their business on Earth and get out before they are caught.
One of my favorite parts of the movie didn’t show up in the book at all. In the movie, Jack falls in love with one of the Antarean females, and they have a very steamy romance. There were also several plot holes that didn’t make sense, like the fact that the Antareans needed exactly 941 soldiers to complete their mission. I don’t think that was ever explained, or if it was, I guess I missed it.
I also wish the publisher had taken the time to do some reformatting with the scene breaks in the story. Because the point of view switches back and forth so often, even within the same chapter, there was nothing between those paragraphs to alert the reader to the transition.
But overall I had fun with this book. The author gives us a peek into the lives of the elderly and makes you think twice about how they are treated in our society. The story does dip into overly sentimental territory at the end, and there is even a whiff of religious overtone, but Saperstein’s message of a peaceful alien society is one I applaud. If and when the alien invasion actually happens, I hope those aliens are just like the Antareans.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.
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