X-Files: Ruins (Kevin J. Anderson)
The X-Files: Ruins is the fourth in a series of spin off novels that sends our heroes, FBI agents Mulder and Scully, on one-off quests around the world. Written by Kevin J. Anderson, author of two other X-Files books, Ruins is a surprisingly decent novel that capitalizes on the vibrant setting, tones down (but doesn't eliminate) the random side plots that have plagued the other books in the series, and successfully utilizes alien mythology to create a competent monster of the week tale.
Set in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, the novel sends the duo on a quest to track down a missing archaeological team that was investigating a recently uncovered Mayan temple. Joining them on their quest is Vladimir Rubicon, renowned archaeologist and father of one of the team members. Vladimir's inclusion slightly changes the formula for the typical X-File adventure, and he shares a unique connection to Mulder in that both have ostensibly lost someone to alien abductions. Unfortunately, Mulder and Scully's connection is muted here, and Mulder feels remarkably out of character. Outside of a good charater moment in which Mulder thanks Scully for indulging his crazy theories over the years, the two share almost no chemistry. Additionally, Mulder is far too much of a jokester for my tastes. He seemingly meets every situation with a witty one liner or pop culture reference, even in the most outrageous, mind blowing moments in the book. This doesn't gel with the Mulder from the TV series that was significantly more restrained in this respect, and the overindulgence of this aspect of his persona in Ruins gives weight to the old adage that sometimes less is more.
The sub plots aren't very good, as has been the case in every book of this series. A random rivalry between two local drug lords is worked into the story, to no great effect. We spend a bit of time with it at the beginning, and it is totally dropped for the second half of the novel, rendering it a completely pointless detour. It does have one small effect: serving as an excuse to introduce the obligatory shadowy government intervention that plays an important part in the latter half of the novel. The government team, lead by Major Willis Jakes, is looking for weapons of mass destruction that have supposedly leveled the villa of one of the two warring drug lords. Their investigation brings them into contact with Mulder and Scully, in addition to a group of Mexican freedom fighters, whom they stage a huge battle with. This plot was a little better as it actually impacted the main characters and spiced up the finale, but it still felt unnecessary. It was also extremely similar to the climax of Antibodies, where Mulder and Scully were trapped between the government soldiers, a mutated superhuman, and a burning building. The character of Willis Jakes is yet another one dimensional single minded antagonist that frequently appears in books by this author.
Luckily, despite the horrible sub plots, the main tale here is one that X-Files fans will appreciate. A riff on the belief that aliens helped Earth's early people construct the great pyramids and impressive architecture of that time, Ruins works wonderfully in that it captures that blend of myth and science that the series thrives on, in addition to featuring aliens, which almost always works out well for the X-Files. Much of the action takes place in and around the Mayan temple, and the author does a good job of visualizing the setting and creating an atmosphere of foreboding and mystery. The writing is otherwise completely pedestrian, and the dialogue is quite often atrocious, particularly when the newly introduced characters are speaking. Mexican drug lords, two bit criminals, revolutionaries, and soldiers all sound the exact same, and much of the dialogue seems completely unnatural relative to the situation and type of person speaking. Outside of this, the writing style is bland but inoffensive, and is a marked improvement over the atrocity that was Antibodies.
Ruins is a refreshing change of pace for this tie in series, as I have failed to be impressed by the two novels I have read since Skin, which was surprisingly good. The writing is weak, and the characters are flimsy, but the strong plot and smaller number of useless sub plots and cutaways makes it far superior than either Whirlwind or Antibodies. The writing style is also decent, but not great, though it manages to rarely detract from the experience. It would be a decidedly mediocre episode of the TV series, but Ruins manages to entertain as a novel.