You know, I was pleasantly surprised by this western/sci-fi/horror/action/adventure book! I have not seen the movie which spawned the book, but I do know that it didn't do particularly well at the box office. I didn't really have high hopes for this book, but I wanted something, well, different. You know how that goes sometimes. The thing about Cowboys and Aliens is it was different, and yet, it wasn't. This book had all of what you expect in a good western. Cowboys (obviously), good guys, outlaws, ranchers, saloon keepers, sheriffs, Apaches, horses, guns, and spurs. It had heart and it stressed morals and values, and honor. All that good western stuff. It also had everything that you'd expect in a good (evil) alien book. Massive, nasty, mean, scary aliens who don't give a crap about humans other than as nice little lab rats for disection and experimentation. The book also had all you'd expect in a good action/adventure yarn, namely action and adventure. There was a lot that was formulaic and familiar about Cowboys and Aliens. But the combination of these genres made the book different. It's just odd to try to wrap your head around a band of Apache warriors using bows and arrows, spears and Winchester rifles to take down big pissed off aliens spewing out of a mothership like black ants out of an ant hill. It's kind of comical to have our mysterious outlaw/hero cowboy falling for our beautiful (good) alien heroine. And yet, all of this works out to be "right."
I was really rather pleasantly surprised with the writing, too. To me this didn't read like a book based on a movie. Believe me, I've read a lot of books inspired by movies because I have a young niece and nephew that have these sorts of books marketed to them pretty much relentlessly. Those books are very much the movie transferred to the page. In this book, though, there was some real and deep exploration of the characters. Their backgrounds were built in such a way as to make their personalities understandable. The characters were rich and vibrant. Even the dog had character (which any dog in any western worth its salt would). The language was pretty, scenes were described, place and time were established. In other words, this book can stand on its own, separate from the movie. It can be read and enjoyed with absolutely no knowledge of the movie.
I listened to this on audio book, and it was narrated by Fred Berman. Berman did a wonderful job of narration. Each character was voiced differently and real emotions were behind the characters' voices. You could feel the sorrow, intensity, hate, whatever emotion the character was supposed to be expressing.
The book did have a moral. Several morals, actually. While I appreciated these, and recognized them, I did feel like this was a part of the book that should have been a strength, but didn't quite get there. I'm not quite sure why these "lessons learned" fell flat. It's hard to chalk them up to the fact that they were cliched, because the whole book was full of cliches. Maybe it's because these "lessons" desperately wanted to be deep and profound, but they weren't really as deep and profound to the reader as they were to the characters experiencing them. But then again, that's kind of life, isn't it? Some realizations may be earth-shattering, life-changing to one person, and may be completely insignificant to someone else. That's how these lessons felt to me--sort of, "well, duh."
The other thing that this book (and probably the movie) had going against it was the title. Seriously? Cowboys and Aliens? Are you going to fork out $20 to go see that in a theater? Cowboys and Aliens? How worthwhile of a read could that possibly be? The town in this story was named Absolution. This story was, in some ways, about absolution. The town was well named. The book (and probably the movie) could have been named after the town, and maybe it would garner more consideration and less giggle-and-snort.