Book Review
Book Review by Robin Widmar


The Road to Roswell” 

By Robin Widmar

In late July 2023, members of a Congressional subcommittee heard testimony about unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP), otherwise known as unidentified flying objects or UFOs. Renowned science fiction author Connie Willis’s new novel, “The Road to Roswell,” was released almost exactly a month earlier. Coincidence? Yeah, probably. But the timing is ironic for those who believe that The Truth is Out There.

Francie Driscoll thinks UFOs and aliens do not exist. Yet, she finds herself in Roswell, New Mexico (“the place with all the UFO nut jobs”), during a festival for those who believe that an alien spaceship crashed nearby back in 1947. She is not there for the festival, though. She is set to be the maid of honor for her friend, Serena, who is marrying a devout alien conspiracy theorist in a ceremony at the local UFO museum. But Serena “has terrible taste in men” and Francie hopes to convince her to cancel this ill-advised wedding. 

That is, until Francie is actually abducted by an alien. 

Unlike the stereotypical gray humanoid with big eyes, this extraterrestrial looks like a bone-white tumbleweed with “dozens and dozens of serpentlike tentacles radiating from a central point.” Francie’s initial fear quickly turns to anger “because this meant aliens did exist … and all of those other UFO nuts had been right.” Lacking a voice and language proficiency, the alien uses its tentacles to direct Francie to drive it away from Roswell. 

On an empty road somewhere in the New Mexican desert, Francie nearly runs over Wade, a hitchhiking con man. The tumbleweed strikes out with whiplike tentacles and abducts him, too. As the trio continues their journey, it becomes apparent that the alien is on a mission. Francie and Wade just don’t know what it is or where the alien is taking them. Judging by its erratic driving directions, it does not seem to know where it is going, either. But the little tumbleweed seems benign, and Wade nicknames it “Indy” as an homage to whip-wielding adventurer Indiana Jones. 

Thwarting every escape attempt by Francie and Wade, Indy adds three more people to his entourage. Eula Mae is an elderly habitual gambler. Lyle is a rabid believer in UFO conspiracies. Joseph, owner of a recreational vehicle he calls his “Western trail wagon,” is on a southwest tour of sites from his favorite classic Western movies. Indy commandeers the RV — er, Western trail wagon — and directs his five captives on a convoluted road trip across the American Southwest. Francie and Wade begin to bridge the language gap and learn that Indy is on the run from someone — or something.

Everyone except Lyle (who believes an alien invasion is imminent) becomes invested in Indy’s plight. This leads to escapades more in line with the comedic “Family Vacation” movies than, say, Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” Indy’s human companions go to great lengths — even taking on the secretive Men in Black — to protect him and help him complete his mysterious quest. Through it all, Francie frets about not being in Roswell to keep her friend from making a horrible mistake. The revelation that someone in the group is not who they seem creates complications that jeopardize Indy’s quest. 

“The Road to Roswell” is described as “part alien-abduction adventure, part road trip saga, part romantic comedy,” and on those counts it holds up. Fans of alien action films may be disappointed by the lack of blasters and space lasers, but those gaps are filled by frequent references to classic science fiction movies and aliens in pop culture. Numerous allusions to western films also are made since they become part of Indy’s language lessons. There are running gags, humorous situations, and witty banter. And is that a spark developing between Francie and Wade? Or is she just imagining things? 

In all honesty, the constant speculation about what Indy is trying to accomplish, combined with seemingly endless nomadic wandering, becomes tedious at times. Characters are quirky and entertaining but lack significant emotional depth. There are failures of logic and the story ends somewhat abruptly. All that said, this is a lighthearted work of imagination, and readers should approach it as such.

Taken as a whole, “The Road to Roswell” is a fun, escapist romp well-suited for the end-of-summer segue into fall. Indy grows into an endearing character much like E.T., and the resolution of his storyline is creative. In the end, this tale really is about the journey and not the destination.

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