Review: “Alien Quest” by Mark Zurbo

Alien QuestTitle: Alien Quest
Series: Book 1 of the Alien Danger Series
Author: Mark Zurbo
Genre: sci-fi
LGBTQ+ Category: m/m, cis
Publisher: MLR Press
Pages: 396 pages
Blurb

Gay Chicago waiter falls in love with a sexy, mysterious alien who asks for his help to save Earth from a mad scientist.

Chicago waiter Mike Carlson stumbles into intergalactic intrigue and romance as he becomes involved with Joe, an alien cop, who lands on Earth in pursuit of a dangerous mad scientist bent on taking over our corner of the universe. As Mike joins Joe on a wild adventure beyond anything he dreamed of in his life, Mike must balance his obligations to his nephew and his first lover– with a little help from a drag queen in sequins and spandex and the well-dressed patrons of a leather bar.

Review by Dan

On the surface, everything about this book appealed to me. Sci-Fi has always deeply appealed to the outsider in me, drag queens are basically angels, and there’s nothing about a bit of kink at which I’d turn up my nose. I signed up to review it hoping for a sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Gay Galaxy. What I got instead felt like an outdated, hokey tour through white, cis, gay Chicago. Cis to the point where the skanky hotel was populated by “transgendered denizens” and white to the point where even the man from another planet was the pinnacle of Aryan beauty.

Sci-Fi is meant to exist on the bleeding edge of the world we inhabit, pushing our imaginations to new limits. Instead, I got a gay man who was introduced as “He has AIDS” before he was named and died before the book was out. I know HIV/AIDS left huge, gaping wounds on the gay community and that it continues to do so. However, when dealing with a protagonist in his twenties, in a book that apparently takes place in the same time as iPhones, the focus on finding a cure for AIDS wrenched me out of whatever time period I was supposed to be imagining. I get the feeling this book was written several decades ago and then hastily updated.

In one sense, though, this book brought to a light a lot of issues that still exist, exemplified especially by the way the main character essentially fat-shames his way through a leather bar and refers to larger characters as looking like sausages, as well as “unkempt and porcine” and doing things like trundling, instead of walking, as most humans do regardless of weight. On the other hand, this book tries to fight stereotypes that aren’t as present anymore. It features a teen boy whose only reason for homophobia is because his father has been repeatedly raping and beating him since the first grade and that’s what gay men do. These suspicions may still lurk in the minds of outlandishly out-of-touch bigots, but I’d hoped that we’d moved past the idea that homophobes have a tragic reason for their homophobia.

The writing, in general, was sparse in some ways but overmuch in others, giving a few sentences to a jaunt around the rings of Saturn and an entire paragraph to the all-white-silk outfit of the main character’s lawyer (down to his underwear). It spends a lot of time throwing sex into our faces, but when the main characters to go to bed together, we get nothing more than a kiss and a fade to black. Overall, the whole book was disjointed and out dated, referring to alien tech simply as “technology” for the bulk of the book. As in “can your technology fix this?” or “is this something that can be solved with your technology?” with very little explanation as to how or why this alien is pulling anything off with some kind of interstellar Apple Watch.

In the end, I wanted to hate this book. While I was reading it, I really thought I did. Looking back, I feel a sort of pity for someone so out of touch with the modern queer community that we got a 27-year-old protagonist who still reads print newspapers and has an answering machine.


Dan Ackerman is a writer and educator who has lived in Connecticut for their entire life. They received their BSED from CCSU in 2013 and wrote their Master’s thesis on representations of women in same-sex relationships in contemporary Spanish literature and cinema. Currently, Dan is studying for a second MA in ABA and works in a center school for students with variety of intellectual, developmental, or multiple disabilities. In their spare time, Dan continues to read and write, supplemented with a healthy amount of movie marathons and gaming.

Leave a Comment