The X-Files: Goblins

Now that I’m all finished with Animorphs, I think it’s time to take a look at another series that really struck a chord with me as a teenager. In celebration of its 25th anniversary, I think it’s appropriate to dedicate a few posts to The X-Files. As with the Animorphs reviews, these are retrospective posts and so may contain spoilers for the books in question.

The X-Files was a massively popular television series and so a lot of novels that tied into it were produced over its run. Although these were usually just novelisations of popular episodes, six original stories were published between 1994 and 1998. These books were penned by three different authors and were technically aimed at adult readers, but were generally light enough to be enjoyed by older teens as well. For the purpose of this review, I will be looking at Goblins by Charles Grant.

A quiet town near Fort Dix is rocked by a pair of brutal murders. Two military personnel are found dead in public places, their throats viciously slit. However, an eye witness account paints a strange picture of the crimes. The killer has the power to blend into their surroundings, invisible to its victims before it strikes.

A case of an invisible man isn’t generally enough to entice Special Agent Fox Mulder, but he has no choice but to investigate when a senator calls in a favour from his current director, Arlen Douglas. However, it will not just be his partner, Dana Scully, assisting him this time. Douglas insists that they be accompanied by two rookie agents – Hank Webber and Licia Andrews – who desperately need some time in the field.

Although Mulder is initially sceptical that the case is an X-File, he soon encounters a local woman who believes that goblins stalk the woods and realises that there is something strange going on. The local military hide a terrible secret – one with deadly applications. However, as Mulder and Scully get closer to the truth, they also risk becoming the killer’s next targets…

I’m going to presume that you’ve at least heard of The X-Files. Including its recent revival, the series has run for eleven seasons and two movies, as well as fathering a couple of spin-off shows and video game adaptations. The plot follows two FBI agents Fox Mulder – an expert criminal profiler who is determined to uncover the truth of his sister’s alien abduction – and Dana Scully, a sceptical doctor who is initially assigned to debunk him. The two of them investigate the titular “X-Files”, cases that are deemed unsolvable. Naturally, most of these cases are supernatural in nature.

Really, that is all you need to know to be able to follow this novel. Goblins is designed to be easily accessible to a reader, even if they have never seen an episode of the series. In a way, this means that its perfectly suited to attract new fans to the show, hooking them in and encouraging them to watch the series to learn more. At least, that’s how it could work in theory. In practice, Goblins has a lot of problems.

For the first X-Files novel that was not just a rehash of an existing episode, Goblins was unfortunately pretty forgettable. The plot played through a bit like a standard Monster of the Week episode – an episode of the series that did not hinge on the underlying conspiracy but instead just dispatched Mulder and Scully to investigate a violent crime. The execution of this was, unfortunately, incredibly messy.

The plot of Goblins is very slow to find its feet. Although the novel is less than three hundred pages in length, Mulder and Scully do not even reach the scene of the crime until over seventy pages into the novel. As a long-term fan of the series, I found this deeply unsatisfying, but I can’t imagine that a newcomer would have enjoyed it any more. This first third of the story isn’t spent introducing the two primary protagonists. Most of it is spent with a whole bunch of supporting characters that we have no reason to really care about as most don’t live very long anyway.

For me, this was the worst thing about Goblins. The third person narrative lacks any real focus and instead flits between several groups of characters. Of these, only Mulder and Scully are actually taken from the television series. All the rest are of the author’s own creation. These vary from folks who live close to the scene of the crime, to other members of the Bureau who are associates of Mulder. As these aren’t familiar characters, all that we learn about them is presented through heavy exposition, which in turn really bogs down the story.

Due to this, the narrative always feels clunky and slow moving, lacking the creepy tension that was typical of The X-Files. No time is wasted on descriptions and the story just felt badly paced, spending too much time focusing on insignificant character relationships and leaving vast stretches of the novel where nothing seemed to happen. Although we see glimpses of a conspiracy beneath the surface – of a plot concerning super-soldiers and secret military plans – this is always kept very vague. We never learn the identity of Mulder’s informant, or why there are certain people planted within the Bureau to discredit him. We don’t find out the nature of the “experiments” that created the Goblin. We don’t even learn if there were ever true goblins roaming the woods, or if these sightings were the ramblings of a crazy woman.

The ending of Goblins was very abrupt, carrying none of the excitement of an episode of the series. There is no grand reveal or any sense of a cover-up. The monster is defeated with remarkable ease and the story just wraps up in a single chapter, in which Mulder laments that they may not have put an end to the experiments. Personally, I really hope that they have. I really don’t want the mundane Goblin to be a reoccurring plot thread…

Yet the plot is not the only problem with Goblins. It also really struggled with its characterisation. It felt as though Grant only had the vaguest idea of how an X-Files story worked as the characters all seemed to be exaggerated caricatures of how they are in the series. Scully is portrayed as being sceptical and cold, bluntly brushing off someone attracted to her and showing little empathy towards rookie agents. Mulder felt even further off the mark. He just came across as being world-weary, lacking the charm of his character. He was also portrayed as being deeply respected at the Bureau, which was certainly something that the television series never claimed.

The supporting cast were all incredibly shallow. There were a lot of secondary characters introduced in this novel, but none of them made any kind of impression. The townsfolk were all one-note characters, existing purely to flesh out the story. Worse still were those who were presented as long-term associates of Mulder, which included the two younger FBI agents who accompanied them on the case and a repulsive sports reporter. Really, these characters had no place in the story. They contributed nothing of value and Grant spent far too much time introducing them, especially as I am certain that most will never be seen again.

I think that about covers everything. As you might be able to tell, I was very disappointed by this instalment. It was not a strong start to the novel series and it made me worried about what is next to come. I am really hoping that Grant’s second novel – Whirlwind – is a lot more engaging than this one.

The X-Files: Goblins can be purchased as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The X-Files: Whirlwind | Arkham Reviews

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