Tony Black reviews The X-Files: Secret Agendas…
In the space of around eighteen months, IDW Publishing have neatly timed around the revival of 90’s TV hit The X-Files a series of compilation short stories about the weird & wonderful investigations of FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder & Dana Scully, with ‘Secret Agendas’ the overarching title of the third installment, edited by Jonathan Maberry and featuring fifteen tales set within The X-Files universe by a number of writers, following the success of previous compilations ‘Trust No One’ and ‘The Truth Is Out There’. Much like those books, ‘Secret Agendas’ in truth can be hit and miss, but luckily a solid average is maintained throughout and for devouts of the show such as myself, there’s plenty to enjoy.
Oddly enough, the best is saved to last in ‘Grandmother Black Hands’ by Weston Ochse, a creepy and vividly described tale of Apache curses and blood moons, while standouts also include Jade Shames’ ‘Give Up the Ghost’, which combines elements of pathos, black comedy, character introspection, whimsy and trippy weirdness into a ‘meta’ story in which Shames brazenly gets away with writing *himself* into the story – it’s an X-File as if written by Thomas Pynchon and directed by Spike Jonze; ‘Stryzga’ by Lauren A. Forry is also a strong outing, pitching Mulder & Scully in the woods as they link mysterious children to a Slavic folk legend, standing out thanks to her sense of plotting and character work.
The rest are hit and miss in places, with truly only one real miss in the entire pack, and it principally often comes down to a fundamental understanding of The X-Files and its characters – some writers here are clearly long term fans who *get* the show, get the world, and get how to translate it into prose. Some, well… some struggle with that, with either the voices not shining through or plot elements that feel like they’re out of a completely different series; plus, though more of a personal nitpick, chronologically dates of some of these stories are way off, set at points where for various overarching story reasons in the series they just couldn’t have happened. I found myself taken out of some stories at times thanks to this.
Nonetheless, these anthologies continue to be essential reading for any fan of The X-Files who needs their fix before (hopefully!) a new season shows up, and on the whole are well-written, edited and produced stories in the shows universe, worth picking up. For more in-depth coverage on each story, plus exclusive interviews with the authors of these stories weekly, check out the blog of my X-Files podcast, The X-Cast.