The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There is the second prose anthology in IDW Publishing’s series edited by bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.
As a long-time fan of The X-Files, going back to the pilot episode in 1993, I’m delighted by the resurgence and interest in the on-going investigations led by FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (aka, The FBI’s Most Unwanted), and the anthology format provides readers and audiobook listeners with plenty of interesting new cases from various writers. However, while I mostly enjoyed my time with The Truth Is Out There, I can’t help but feel that it is a weaker anthology than its predecessor, Trust No One. There are several stories that stand out as being incredibly strong, but there are also a number of mediocre entries, and one, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” that is downright awful.
Kelley Armstrong and Jon McGoran get the book off to a strong start, the latter presenting a really interesting story of time travel. Bev Vincent’s “Phase Shift,” was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly.
Hank Schwaeble brings a welcome dose of ludicrousness to the table with “Male Privilege,” where the men of a small town have suddenly grown breasts. Over the years, The X-Files has shown considerable elasticity in the nature of its premise, ranging from ultra-serious to straight-up goofball comedy, and “Male Privilege” runs to the latter end of this continuum, feeling a bit like a Darin Morgan tribute. On the other end of the continuum then, is Sara Stegall’s “Snowman,” a terrific conspiracy and monster caper involving a search for missing Marine’s in the wintry woods of Washington, and reunites Mulder and John Doggett. Props to Stegall for bringing Doggett, an X-Files alum who has been underserved in the latest renaissance of The X-Files, back into the fold for a brief time.
Glenn Greenberg’s “XXX” revolves around murder on a porn set, which sounds like Mulder’s dream case but is nicely understated and provides some solid twists. As somebody who has read several titles by Tim Waggoner in the past, I was excited to note his inclusion in this anthology and expected a solid effort from him. Thankfully, “Foundling,” did not disappoint and revolves around Mulder and Scully discovering an abandoned baby in an eerily, and suddenly, empty town.
Of the fifteen stories comprising this anthology, the above-mentioned are the ones that really stood out to me. Unfortunately, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” by Hank Phillipi Ryan, stood out as well, but for entirely different reasons. Set in 2017, the story is far out of continuity with the series and its recent reboot and features a married Mulder and Scully who are expecting a child. I could have given this premise a pass, but Ryan’s characterizations are so out of synch with the character, and the central mystery surrounding numerology and a painting of the composer Shostakovich making its way to their apartment door, is so lackluster it barely feels like an X-File at all. Not much happens aside from the intrepid FBI agents staring at the painting and Googling stuff.
Those who listened to the previous anthology will know what to expect in terms of narration. Bronson Pinchot and Hillary Huber return, and take turns narrating individual stories depending on who the central point of view character is. If it’s primarily a Mulder story, Pinchot delivers a fairly flat voiceover, which turns even more monotone during Mulder’s dialogue in an effort to capture actor David Duchovny’s performance. Overall, though, Pinchot seems flatter in this anthology than he did with the previous one. Huber does solid work, which struck me as an improvement over her prior turn with these characters and their stories. Unfortunately, neither know how to pronounce the name of Frohike – long-time fans will know the Lone Gunman’s name is said “fro-hickey” and not “fro-hike” as it appears in print.
On the production side of things, there’s little to complain about. The sound quality is fine and the narrator’s maintain consistent tones and levels in their work. For whatever reason, the introduction by Lone Gunman actor Dean Haglund, which appears in the print volume, was not recorded (which is a shame, as I would have liked to have heard it).
The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There provides some solid entertainment over the course of 13 hours, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as Trust No One did. Still, it’s worth a listen and die-hard fans will find plenty of stories, the majority set during the series initial nine-year run, enjoyable and familiar enough to satisfy their itch for fresh cases of alien abductions, haunted houses, weird science, physics gone awry, and the occasional exploding head or two.