First contact stories are among the most fertile ground for science fiction humor. They make excellent vehicles for looking in the mirror for a good laugh. In his first novel, Shh! It’s a Secret, Daniel Kimmel holds that mirror up to Hollywood in a way that is simultaneously warm-hearted and funny. Having spent over twenty-five years as a film critic and penned several industry related titles including the Hugo nominated essay collection Jar Jar Binks Must Die, Kimmel is no stranger to the movie industry or science fiction, and it shows in nearly every page of the novel.
The story opens with the protagonist, one Jake Berman, senior VP for publicity of a moderately sized movie studio, being interrogated about his role in starting an intergalactic war. He claims innocence, stating that they made the movie with the best of intentions and, after all, it was only a movie. From there we proceed back to the beginning, where it all started with the landing of an alien spacecraft in New York’s Catskill Mountains. The alien race, the Brogardi, humanoids with bald heads, vestigial gills and blue skin, had come seeking peace and scientific exchange with humanity after receiving a steady stream of our radio and TV signals. While the Brogardi were clearly more advanced in the realm of space travel, humanity was well ahead in the areas of medicinal technology, making the interaction mutually beneficial. Things go quite well for this new partnership – at least until the alien Ambassador’s son decides he wants to be in the movies.
That’s where Jake’s troubles begin. The President of the studio hopes to cash in on the coup of producing the first movie to star one of the Brogardi, but the project must be kept secret lest the competition get wind and beat them to the punch. Jake is tasked with promoting the movie without being able to reveal anything about it. At the same time, he must keep the would-be alien star both happy and out of sight. How that leads to the opening interrogation scene is, of course, the fun part.
The story casts a light-hearted, satirical eye on the foibles of Hollywood, showing a keen understanding of the industry. The humor is slow cooked rather than rapid-fire, mature rather than juvenile. That is not to say that it lacks quick shots to the funny bone such as when we are treated to George Carlinesque observations about the unfitting name of Madison Square Garden. But that is part of the natural advantage of SF first contact humor, being able to see the comical incongruities in our lives as observed by the ultimate outsider.
Shh! It’s a Secret is a wacky first contact story that could only happen in Hollywood. It is the sort of novel that will appeal to a broad readership, especially those who enjoy a witty Hollywood yarn or a humorous science fiction tale. Shh! stands as the funniest mix of film making and first contact since William Tenn gave the Venusians the Hollywood treatment in Venus and the Seven Sexes.