Welcome back to Roswell High! It has been eighteen years since the Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) series Roswell High (1998-200) written by Melinda Metz saw print and since then produced a ten book series and just a few installments inspired the TV series Roswell (1999-2002). While I loved the show, and thought it was awesome, it barely scratched the surface of what the books delivered. Through this series of reviews I plan to not just review the books themselves but at the same time explore the TV series in comparison, so maybe someone (Kat/Comic Uno) who is a fan of the TV show may pick up the series. Six Teens One Secret… That was the initial tagline of this series, and along with the simple yet striking cover art, it sold me!
“He’s not like other guys.
Liz has seen him around. It's hard to miss Max--the tall, mysterious senior stands out in her high school crowd. So why is he such a loner?
Max is in love with Liz. He loves the way her eyes light up when she laughs. And the way her long, black hair moves when she turns her head. Most of all, he loves to imagine what it would be like to kiss her.
But Max knows he can't get too close. He can't let her discover the truth about who he is. Or really, what he is...
Because the truth could kill her.”
-- Back Cover
When Liz Ortecho is shot at her parent's diner, the Crashdown Cafe, Max Evans heals her, revealing he is something more than her lab partner. Max asks Liz to trust him, and tell everyone that she just broke a bottle of ketchup when she fell. Liz does, but her best friend Maria DeLuca knows the truth, and wonders why Liz who she could feel dying lied to everyone. Max reveals to Liz, that the human-looking kid she had gone to school with since third grade, is an alien. Despite him healing her leaving two silver handprints over the wound, Liz initially thinks Max is screwing with her, and gets upset, until he shows her proof. Max uses his powers over molecules (the same power he used to heal Liz) to melt her silver bracelet off her wrist and then transforming the melted silver back into the bracelet. Liz is freaked by this revelation, and leaves Max’s house in fear.
Liz heads to Maria’s house and tells her what she just learned, Maria freaks out even more than Liz by imagining Max to be like all the horrifying aliens in the movies that see humans as food. The two learn more about Max including that his twin sister Isabel Evans and their friend Michael Guerin were also aliens who were in incubation pods since the 1947 Roswell crash.
Since the incident at the Crashdown Cafe, Sheriff Valenti, (Liz's ex Kyle Valenti's father) is sure that there is an alien in Roswell. Max's sister Isabel is worried and scared that Liz and now Maria will tell Valenti about them. Maria who is freaking out turns to her and Liz’s best friend Alex Manes, spilling the secret of the aliens. Now this group of six teenagers--some alien and some human--must come together, to stop Valenti, an alien hunter from a government agency called Project Clean Slate from discovering Max's secret.
But first they must learn to trust each other. At the cave where their incubation pods were stored, the six teens form a connection and form a bond that allows them all to know they can trust each other, and form their plan. At the Homecoming Dance the teens stage the scene where Alex is stabbed in the neck and healed by Max, who along with Michael lead Sheriff Valenti on a car chase that appears to end with the mysterious alien dying in a car crash into the bottomless lake.
Most of this story was adapted into the first episode of Roswell. The differences being the fact that Alex wasn’t brought into the loop until episode nine. Alex’s involvement and role in the show is a big difference from the books as a whole. Another difference is Sheriff Valenti and his son Kyle. While both start out as antagonists for the teens in the show, they turn into allies, this is not the case in the books. Project Clean Slate was also a big difference here. This gives a face to a clear and present danger to the teens, not just the Sheriff or, the F.B.I. Special Unit just the name alone sounds terrifying. Along with plot changes you notice a few more things were changed for the show. The characters themselves. As I stated Sheriff and Kyle Valenti don’t become allies, and Alex is more connected to the group.
You may also have noticed that Liz’s last name isn’t Parker in the books, her name is Ortecho, and is Latino. Liz also has a different family dynamic in the books. On the show she was an overachieving good girl and only child. In the books Liz had an older sister Rosa who died from a drug overdose before the events of The Outsider. This tragedy has caused her parents, and Liz’s extended family around town to become very over protective of her in fear they could lose her the same way they did her. This brings far more depth and character to Liz, who also doesn’t trust Max as fast as she did in the show.
Max and Isabel, whose last name is still Evans in the book and show, is also different. On the show Max and Isabel are siblings, but Isabel is younger (then older) and the two look far more different with Isabel sharing the blonde-hair, blue-eyed appearance of her book counterpart. Max’s appearance changed in the show with Jason Behr being a brunette with brown eyes, and while in the book Max shares his sister’s blond hair and blue eyes.
Michael is pretty much the same as his book counterpart and Maria is as well, aside from the curly locks that Maria has in the books. A common thematic difference is that Liz, Maria, and Alex are all only children with different family dynamics on the show then the books. In the books Maria has a younger brother, and Alex has three older brothers all of whom serve in the armed forces like their father. This dynamic really showcases the difference in Alex from the book to the show. Alex, like Liz has a different last name, on the show his last name was Whitman, while here it was Maines.
The first five books in the series were released with models on the covers that looked like the character descriptions inside the book, that were a bit different than the ones you see on the show. After the show was picked up and cast, the books took a publishing break and were re-released with the cast of the show on the first five covers and the remaining covers, leaving the original covers ending with book five, even though promotional art for book seven was released. While I understand the call to change the covers to reflect the new show for that cross promotional sales factor, the characters were described very different in the books itself.
- Max Evans, Isabel Evans, and Michael Guerin are aliens from the Roswell crash in 1947. They were in incubation pods until decades later where they emerged looking like average six year old human children.
- Liz Ortecho, Maria DeLuca, and Alex Manes learn the truth about their alien classmates. Despite initial fear, they realize that their friends are just as scared as they are.
- Sheriff Valenti is in charge of a secret government organization called Project Clean Slate. An organization that hunts down aliens.
- Elsevan DuPris is introduced as an eccentric reporter for local National Enquirer-type paper, the Astral Projector. He is very curious about the shooting at the Crashdown Cafe.
- Max and Michael constantly look for the crashed ship in the desert, but all they have found is the cave where they came out of the incubation pods, an indestructible, adaptive piece of metal not of this planet, like the piece that was seen on the show in Season 2 Episode 4 “Summer of ‘47”. Max, Isabel, and Michael use the cave as a secret hideout, but also consider it to be a connection to their past and their parents.
- Molecular Manipulation - All of the aliens have the ability to move molecules. They can nudge molecules together or further apart. They cannot change a substance into something else; they can only manipulate the existing molecules. This was how Max healed Liz after she was shot. In the show Max is seen to have the most control over this power.
- Connection - All of the aliens have the ability to form a connection to each other and to humans. By touching another person, they can 'join' with the other person. Once the connection is made, the two share the same sensations, memories, and feelings, even though they both remain in their own bodies. It is also possible to expand this to an entire group of people allowing them to form a connection with each other. While in this group connection everyone takes from each other and experience things unique to them, as a group. This power is also used when healing. On the show this power was also used mainly by Max and only in a one on one basis. They also did their version of the group connection from the pod cave in season one, episode ten - The Balance, where River Dog helped them use the
- Healing - By forming a connection and using their molecular manipulation powers all of the aliens can heal. In the show Max is seen to have the most control over this power.
- Empathy - All of the aliens have the ability to feel the emotions of other aliens. This ability is strong among each other. They can choose to tune these feelings out, but they always have this connection with each other. This power extends from their power to form connections.After the group connection both the aliens and humans share this bond, where previously it was just shared among themselves. This power was never really explored on the show.
- Auras - All of the aliens can see auras. Auras are the manifestation of energy that every individual emits. Each person's aura is completely different and has a unique color. This energy surrounds a person in a soft glowing light. As a person's emotions change, their auras change as well. Dark colors streaking a person's aura might indicate fear or unhappiness. Lighter colors might indicate joy or pleasure. When an aura turns completely black, that usually means the person has died. This power is most often seen through Max’s eyes as he uses it to read people and was how Michael knew that Max and Isabel were like him when Max gave a teacher a stone that he said reminded him of her aura. The aura colors are: Max – emerald green, Isabel – royal purple, Michael – brick red, Liz – amber, Maria – ocean blue, and Alex – bright orange. The show never used this power, which was most likely for budgetary reasons.
- Night Vision - All of the aliens have the ability to see better in the dark. This ability helps them out while searching the desert for evidence of their ship, and while hiding from Sheriff Valenti. This could be an extension of a visual spectrum power that also allows them to see a person’s aura. This power was not used for the show.
- Dreamwalking - All of the aliens have the power to dreamwalk. The aliens only need two hours of sleep a night and so they often dreamwalk to pass the time. To enter the dreamscape they close their eyes, and enter a dreamlike state--that state when you are half-alseep and half-awake. Each person has a unique dream orb on this plane, each one emitting a unique melody. The aliens have the ability to call the orb to them by humming their individual melodies. From there they can choose to watch the dream through the orbs like a crystal ball or choose to enter the dream by humming louder turning the orb into a portal to the dream. If they enter the dream, they can communicate with the person and manipulate the structure of the dream. On the show this power was seen being used by Isabel, and was accessed different where Isabel had to touch a picture of the person whose dream she wanted to enter before drifting off and entering it. The show did not use the orbs, the melodies or the dream plane, which like the auras was most likely due to budgetary reasons..
There were other things that happened, but weren’t really “powers” but came to be through the group connection. While in their group connection they pulled from each other. While everyone could see the auras that all the aliens could see everyday, from Isabel they could hear the groups individual dream orb melody in harmony. Maria in the book and on the show is big into aromatherapy and because of her the group could smell a scent from each individual. The aliens could also feel when one of them would use their powers. They felt a crackling in the air, all their arm hair stood up, and they smelled the ozone like just after a thunderstorm. All of the Roswell Aliens (never named, nor is their planet) have specie-shared memories, these are common memories, like what their planet looked like etc.
- Liz and Maria - Best friends for most of their lives. They both work together at the Crashdown Cafe.
- Alex - Alex is a military brat of sorts who becomes the third member of this strong trio. Alex comes from a male dominated household of his father and three brothers, and never had girls as friends before Liz and Maria.
- Liz and Max - Casual friends and lab partners. Max has always had a crush on Liz, which only intensified after he healed her. Liz always thought of Max as a friend, but finds herself seeing him differently now.
- Max and Isabel - Twins shared an incubation pod. Max sees Isabel at her most vulnerable and serves as her protective brother.
- Michael - Best friends with Max and Isabel since they were little kids. Michael was the first of them to emerge from his pod and would sleep next to their pod finding comfort in the sound of it. After a few days hunger and thirst drove Michael to leave the cave seeking out food and water. While drinking from a nearby stream he was found and dropped off at an orphanage. He often spends nights at the Evans’ house, or the cave.
- Liz and Kyle - Broke up before the event of The Outsider. Kyle still wants Liz back and gets jealous about the relationship Liz and max have formed.
- Max and Liz - While Max has always had a crush on Liz, it wasn’t until she got to see herself through his eyes when they formed their connection that she started to feel for Max in a romantic way. Max & Liz pretend to date to throw Kyle off the secret, and just as Liz professes her feelings to Max he tells her that they can’t date because he will always be in danger and didn’t want to put her in danger as well.
- Isabel and Alex - Alex always thought Isabel was hot, as did almost every guy at Ulysses F. Olsen High, but Isabel is attracted to the big muscled jocks, not the leaner men like Alex. It wasn’t until she went dreamwalking into Alex’s dream to get him to vote for her as Homecoming Queen and shared a dance did she start to develop feelings for him.
- Michael and Maria - Initially these two were just casual friends until the group formed their connection in the cave. After that moment the two began to grow closer including dancing at Homecoming.
- Michael and Alex - The two share a unique sense of humor among their group that feeds off each other. This bromance grew after the group connection where they found out that Isabel was visiting the guys dreams at school to persuade them to vote her Homecoming Queen. At the real Homecoming where Max and Liz were named King and Queen Alex and Isabel danced and he shared with her that he and Michael discovered her plan and came up with one of their own ensuring Max and Liz would win by having guys see images of Isabel picking her nose and such.
- Sheriff Valenti and The Teens - Sheriff Valenti works for a government organization named Project Clean Slate that hunts and captures aliens. Valenti is no where near the sympathetic and apathetic man from the show, this Valenti is heartless and is a by any means necessary type.
- Isabel and Stacey - Stacey is the Cheerleader Squad Captain,and jealous of Isabel. The two girls would be frenemies if either one pretended to actually like the other. The squad is divided between the girls who wanted to be like Stacey and those who couldn’t stand her.
- Isabel and Tish - Tish is a human, and cheerleader with Isabel, who like Isabel can’t stand the captain of the Squad Stacey. Stacey is Isabel’s best friend, maybe only real friend outside of the main group.
Roswell High: The Outsider (and the rest of the series) despite the science fiction angle, did something a lot of young adult book series at the time failed at doing, and that was to target both the male and female audience. This was a problem for the science fiction genre in particular, how do you bring in both demographics, and Metz did it here by balancing all the classic sci-fi themes like aliens, powers, etc with the characters allowing them to explore true love, romance, and deep friendship. This was also a key element to the TV series.
Like the TV series, the book ages well. They reference the internet, and such, but do so in very broad terms, so you aren’t locked in with it. I would imagine it to be even different if this was done today with adding in the social media element, but eighteen years later the story still holds up and I think because it isn’t about social media, but actual interaction between these characters. It is this chemistry between the characters that Metz created that endeared them to readers.
I know a lot of people may only know these characters from the show and the Roswell books that sprung from the TV series (yes the book inspired a TV show that in turn continued on in books) during and after the show ended. I hope this review and the one to come for the other nine books intrigue you enough to see where your beloved characters originated.
If you want to know my thoughts along with my Media Madness co-host Kat (Comic Uno) thoughts? Check out our Live Commentary on the first and last episode coming soon!
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All images images are courtesy of Simon & Schuster