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Literature: My Teacher Is an Alien
My Teacher Is an Alien
is a series of four children novels by Bruce Coville
- My Teacher Is an Alien
- My Teacher Fried My Brains
- My Teacher Glows in the Dark
- My Teacher Flunked the Planet
The series is about Peter Thompson, a nerdy boy, and his best friend Susan Simmons who find out that their new teacher, Mr. Smith, is actually an extra-terrestrial agent named Broxholm. They suspect an Alien Invasion
, and work to expose the infiltrator. In the second book in the series, Duncan Dougal, the class bully and a side character from the first novel, discovers that there is another alien posing as a teacher, and that he has been the subject of an alien experiment to expand his intellect.
Book three completely changes gears, as Peter discovers that the aliens are not necessarily dangerous and ends up living with them as a guest on a gigantic alien exploratory vessel. He learns that that Broxholm had been sent by an alien council who has decided to put Humanity on Trial
to find a proof whether or not Humans Are the Real Monsters
. In the final installment the kid and alien characters team up and embark on a research mission to explore the nature of humanity and determine whether the earth can be saved.
The narrator changes character in each of the books, following Susan in the first as she attempts to find proof of Broxholm's supposedly "evil" plans (abduct 5 students and take them back for study, not realizing his true intent was to use them as proof that Earth can be redeemed), then Duncan in the second as he tries to prove one of his teachers in middle school is an alien, then finally Peter in the last two. The last two books were originally planned to be one longer book, which is why Peter is used as the narrator twice. The "switching narrator" technique is one Bruce Coville would later use in other books.
This series features examples of:
- Abusive Parents: Duncan. As revealed in My Teacher Fried My Brains, his father actually encourages his older brother Patrick to bully him, while his mother just doesn't care either way.
- Alien Among Us
- Aliens Are Bastards: Zig-zagged, although they are well-meaning and mostly peaceful, some of them 'do'' want to destroy Earth because of their somewhat justified belief that Humans Are the Real Monsters.
- Alien Lunch: The alien food replicators attempt to create an approximation of Earth cuisine. The "french fry/blueberry pancake" did not work out as well as planned.
- Duncan enjoyed the fimflit (an alien fungus) more when he didn't know what it grew on. No report on the reactions of Peter or Susan.
- Alien Non-Interference Clause: In the last book the kids and the aliens are under specific instructions only to observe human behavior and not to interfere in any situation. Predictably, a Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right situation eventually presents itself. Specifically, a woman is being tortured right in front of them with a torture method the protagonists refuse to even describe to the reader, although given the context, an older reader might make an educated guess that it amounted to rape. Broxholm gets so pissed off that he knocks out the torturer and carries the woman to safety.
- Alliterative Name: Susan Simmons and Duncan Dougal.
- Ascended Extra: Duncan goes from a minor supporting character in the first book to being the protagonist of the second and goes through the biggest arc by the series end.
- Beethoven Was an Alien Spy: Hoo-Lan is revealed to have influenced history throughout centuries, with more or less success. He is feeling especially guilty about being responsible for the invention of television. TV was intended to distract people and slow technology growth until humanity had matured a bit more. It didn't end up doing anything but delay said maturation.
- Berserk Button: Don't ever insult Hoo-Lan in front of Peter. Not even if you're on the galactic ruling council.
- Bizarre Alien Sexes: The series mentions one species that requires "seven genders [sic] to produce an egg, and three more to hatch it".
- Brilliant but Lazy: Peter starts out this way, but begins unleashing his knowledge when he learns it might help foil the alien plot. He does so even more as a Plan B, because he wants to see the stars.
- Brutal Honesty: Broxholm comes off as tactless and rude. As it turns out, however, on his planet being brutal with honesty is normal (although Broxholm describes it as just telling the truth and then getting on with things), and in fact in comparison to the rest of Broxholm's kind, Broxholm is a "pussycat". But even the "pussycat" Broxholm cannot understand what he sees as the humans' obsession with talking nicely all the time.
- The Bully: Duncan starts out as this.
- Butt Monkey: The fate of Duncan starting from the second book.
- Cassandra Truth: Generally averted. The kids realize that no one will believe their story about aliens, so they don't bother alerting the authorities.
- Played straight during Duncan's period of hyperintelligence. Putting his enhanced mind to such problems as world hunger and the energy crisis, he develops plans to solve all of these and sends them to various authorities, who basically ignore him.
- Cerebus Syndrome: The last book takes a really heavy turn as the kids and the aliens examine the worst in human nature. Particularly traumatizing is a chapter about starving third world villagers.
- Children Are Innocent: The aliens believe this, and theorize that earthling children will be able to provide better perspective on humanity because they have not yet become jaded and cynical.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Peter, along with most of the aliens.
- Cool Teacher: Betty Lou Karpou a.k.a. Kreeblim and Ms. Schwartz.
- Covers Always Lie: The first book shows Broxholm unmasking at school, when he would never risk doing so in a public place. The fourth book, though, is the worst offender. It shows Broxholm threatening to push The Button that will destroy the Earth while Susan and Peter are about to attack him. In reality, Broxholm and the kids are working together in a desperate attempt to prevent the Earth's destruction.
- Crapsack World: The kids (and the readers) take a tour of it in the fourth book, as they discover the problems going on in the impoverished or corrupt parts of Earth.
- Darker and Edgier: The fourth book features a lot of preaching about Earth's problems, along with portrayals of things such as people tortured for disagreeing with their government, people starving, and many more, while suggesting that the only way to prevent Earth's bad behavior is to nuke it out of existence.
- Dirty Business: Broxholm indicates that even those who are leaning toward the destruction of Earth only do so because they don't believe the other options will work. They would not celebrate the destruction of a world and its people, but mourn it deeply.
- Earth Is the Center of the Universe: Played with. Earth is insignificant at the moment. However, Humans Are Special in that they are more violent and destructive than other species. Earth is the center of an ongoing debate between every other intelligent race in the universe about that fact.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: It may come to this.
- Face-Heel Turn: Averted with Peter in a huge way. See Hero Antagonist below.
- Fantastic Racism: Played with. Even the most vehemently anti-human aliens acknowledge the worth and value of individual humans, but it's hinted that many of them apply very broad generalizations to populace as a whole.
- Partially justified, however, for two reasons: first, some of the raw data the aliens used to draw their conclusions from included humans stockpiling food they then eventually throw away, while children in Third World countries starve, humans making war on each other for petty reasons, humans torturing each other, etc. In fact the protagonist refuses to describe a specific torture method that drives Broxholm to save the torturee, but given the torturee was female it's implied to be rape. Second, the aliens are familiar with non-violent humans, but are also disgusted that the non-violent humans are too apathetic to actually solve global problems.
- Faster-Than-Light Travel: The aliens travel by "folding" space (the details of which are conveniently skirted when the primary alien characters all admit they don't understand the physics of it). They also believe humans will soon discover even faster, easier FTL methods, a possibility which terrifies them.
- Flowers for Algernon Syndrome: Duncan's intelligence boosting "Brain Frying" is temporary, and he will eventually return to ordinary human intellgence. Mildly subverted in that he is now much wiser and knows his potential, so he might find some use for ordinary human intelligence, whereas before he acted like a dimwitted bully.
- Flying Saucer: Lampshaded with a reference that Peter really, really dislikes this term.
- Foreshadowing: In the first book, Peter speculates that the aliens are afraid that humans will start an interstellar war if they make it further into space. He's right.
- Freudian Excuse: Duncan is a bully because his home life sucks: his older brother bullies him, his father thinks the bullying is healthy, and his mom just doesn't care.
- Genre Shift: The first two books are suspense stories about a kid trying to prove a certain teacher is an alien, and stop (what appears to be) an imminent threat. The last two books are far more akin to Star Trek in tone and genre, and reveal that the previous "villains" were actually good.
- Gentle Giant: Broxholm possesses physical strength far beyond that of comparably sized humans, and packs a laser gun to boot, but he only ever directly harms someone once. In fact, he chooses to be unmasked and jeopardize his mission rather than put human lives at risk.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar: It is implied during the torture scene of the fourth book that a woman is about to be raped, pressing Broxholm's Berserk Button and leading the aliens and children to violate the Alien Non-Interference Clause.
- The Glasses Gotta Go: Peter ditches his Nerd Glasses shortly after arriving on the alien ship, getting surgery to fix his eyesight.
- Gray and Gray Morality: Are humans bastards or was Rousseau right? The books suggest that neither answer is a simple as it seems.
- Green-Skinned Space Babe: Subverted. Although Kreeblim may be green-skinned, female and humanoid, she is not at all attractive by human standards. But she says she's not considered ugly on her home planet.
- Hero Antagonist: Broxholm is the Big Bad of the first book, but becomes one of the main protagonists in the sequels.
- Hive Mind: The kids and the aliens eventually discover that the entire human race was once a hive mind, but that we forcibly isolated our minds from each other because of the incredible strain created by the swelling population. Our violent ways are the result of subconscious trauma that comes of not being connected to one another as we're designed to be.
- Hidden Depths: Duncan starts off as a Jerk Ass bully character but eventually grows into a more well-rounded character.
- In the end, the entire human race turns out to have Hidden Depths that many of the aliens did not give them credit for. We're capable of senseless war, but also of risking our lives for our fellows, for example.
- Humanity on Trial: One of the main plot points of the series in the last two books.
- Humans Are Special: Averted in one respect (See 90% of Your Brain below), but also played straight - the third book mentions that our technological progress has been much faster than most/any alien race's, and it's theorized that this is a reason our civility is not on par with other spacefaring races (it hasn't "caught up" yet). Also, turns out we're naturally telepathic, or were, and could be again.
- Humans Are the Real Monsters: Many of the aliens think this, and show some of the evidence to the protagonists. Determining whether this is in fact true is the task of our heroes in the final book.
- Humans Are Warriors: This is the big reason the other races are worried; largely due to how fast human technology advances, humans kept their full aggression and tribal thinking even after developing weapons that could sterilize a world with no signs of changing any time soon.
- I Know You Know I Know: Susan and Broxholm play this game in the first book. Broxholm implies that he knows Susan was in his house, which indicates that he knows that Susan knows that he is an alien.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Broxholm and Duncan. Averted with Big Julie, who Peter continues to dislike even after the big guy softens up a little and admits to liking him. Which is understandable, as Big Julie's affection for individual humans does not change the fact that he is in favor of destroying the planet.
- Kill All Humans: Some aliens suggest this as the only solution to humanity's violent nature. Hey, at least they feel bad about it: when asked, one of the aliens explains that if they blow up the humans, the aliens will certainly not be singing songs about their glorious conquest that they won; instead, if they actually kill all the humans they will spend their time afterwards miserable and sorry that it had to come to that, mourning over what was lost and what might have been.
- Knight Templar: The aliens who want to destroy Earth for the safety of the rest of the galaxy.
- Kryptonite Factor: Broxholm despises human music, which is so painful to his ears that it can incapacitate him.
- In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: So naturally the antagonistic aliens would like to destroy us first so they don't get caught in the mess.
- Latex Perfection: The alien teachers typically disguise themselves as humans with this kind of mask, plus gloves and such. Later, even the main human characters wear them. Justified since they have alien technology—-for example, its material can change skin tone automatically.
- Life Isn't Fair: This trope is Duncan's pet peeve at the beginning of the second book, although in this series the phrase is "Life is rough". Interestingly, whether it's justified or not depends on the situation: his family uses it to justify the piss-poor treatment he gets at home, which makes Duncan sympathetic. But it's completely justified when it's said to Duncan at school, because it's used to justify stopping him from bullying others, which he felt was unfair until his character development.
- Living with the Villain: Well, let's see here, the title might be a hint... (even if they turn out to not be evil after all in the third and fourth books)
- Mentor Occupational Hazard: Subverted with Hoo-Lan.
- My Species Doth Protest Too Much: The human protagonists eventually have to find examples of this trope from their own species, the human race. It's difficult, but eventually they do, one example involves a doctor risking his life in a hellish war zone to save a child whose limbs were blown off.
- Narrative Profanity Filter: Broxholm's reaction to television is "'I spit in deep disgust at your decision to play in your own garbage.' Only the last word wasn't 'garbage'."
- New Media Are Evil: Hoo-Lan feels that triggering the invention of television was like giving a loaded rifle to a child instead of a watergun. At the time, he was trying to slow down humanity's technological progress by "Turning their brains into swiss cheese". You know, by improving global communications.
- My Greatest Failure: Hoo-Lan giving television to mankind. See New Media Are Evil.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The kids' efforts to thwart Broxholm in the first book actually end up hurting their cause later.
- 90% of Your Brain : A major concept in the series, humans supposedly would be the most intelligent species in the universe if only we used all of our brains.
- No Big Deal: Dozens of people see Broxholm unmasked and even more watch his ship escape, but the town's reaction seems to be just pretending en masse that it never happened. There're some hints that the government hushed things up, but it's never fleshed out.
- Noble Profession: Broxholm and Kreeblim describe teachers as the most important job in the world.
- Phlebotinum Analogy: The exact same one that's used in A Wrinkle in Time. Possibly a Shout-Out.
- Platonic Boy Girl Heroes: Susan teams up with Peter to work together to expose the alien. Peter makes it clear that She Is Not My Girlfriend at one point in the first book, offending Susan (despite her not having a crush on him either).
- Pokémon Speak: Poot!
- Red Herring: Duncan figures out that one of the four new teachers at his school must be an alien spy. Predictably, the one he's most suspicious of turns out to be innocent.
- Red Right Hand: An almost literal example: Duncan triggers a fire alarm but a special system (designed to mark pranksters) spurts permanent purple paint on his hand, and he ends up with a bright purple hand.
- Reset Button: Averted in the second book. Although Duncan's intelligence boost is temporary, when it wears off he doesn't go back to being the same bully as before, but instead realizes that he has the potential to be so much more than just a bully, and learns from the experience.
- Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Most of the main alien characters are like this, especially Broxholm, Kreeblim and Hoo-Lan. Somewhat justified in that the ship has a great variety of aliens from up to 10,000 worlds, and it would make sense to select those most similar to humans as infiltration agents and liaisons. See Starfish Aliens for plenty of aversions.
- Sadist Teacher: Assistant principal Manuel "The Mancatcher" Ketchum and Mr. Black in the second book.
- Shoe Phone: The aliens pack laser guns that look like ordinary pencils. Other fantastic devices are cunningly (and apparently seamlessly) disguised mundane objects. Mental note: Don't EVER ask Broxholm if you can borrow something to write with.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The various aliens fall all over this scale.
- To clarify: the more idealistic aliens want to leave the humans alone, or even engage in diplomatic relations with the humans, while the more cynical aliens want to dominate the humans, or just blow them all up and wipe out the human race.
- Snooping Little Kid: What the main characters essentially are in the first two books, in their attempts to get proof that their teacher is an alien.
- Some Call Me Tim: In the last book, the protagonists meet an alien who fills a whole room. When asking for its name, they find out his name is long and almost unpronounceable, sounding something like "Uhuurbeheegjuli"; Duncan mishears "Big Julie" (sounding like a character from Guys and Dolls) and the name sticks. There is also "Croc Doc" whose real name is Kritzklumpf but Peter calls him this way internally before learning his name.
- Special Person, Normal Name: Broxholm goes by the the nondescript human psuedonym "Mr. Smith." Of course.
- Starfish Aliens: Some of the aliens have rather bizarre anatomies by human standards, especially the New Jersey ship captain who is a bunch of crystals in a jar. Big Julie is an alien literally the size of a house, but who must separate into smaller, ambulatory parts in order to transport himself. Several members of the leadership council are this, including one that appears to be made of shadow and another whose body seems to be composed of "red seaweed."
- Many races are undescribed, but the third book takes pains to emphasize the massive assortment of types of aliens, including something like 30 varieties of bathrooms, repulsive-looking alien foods, and a selection of furniture so vast that it takes many minutes to select a chair (and later, a bed) that would fit a human boy comfortably.
- Starfish Language: The Captain "talks" by making tinkling sounds with his crystal body. Many of the aliens communicate through various non-verbal signs (which the translator microbes do their best to decipher). For example, Broxholm "sighs" by stretching his nose to absurd lengths, Kreeblim emotes through her "hair", and one large, pickle-like alien makes various exclamations by emitting powerful odors. As an inversion, we twice see aliens wink at humans to signal something even though the gesture has no meaning in their own cultures.
- Stern Teacher: Broxholm, as "Mr. Smith".
- But ultimately a positive example, believe it or not. He believes in the value of honesty and integrity, for example, and he has no tolerance for children who behave violently to each other. This is part of the inspiration for the solution the human children eventually come up with to the aliens' problem: if the aliens were willing to send more teachers like Broxholm, maybe the students could be taught to actually do something about all the violence.
- Take A Fifth Option: The aliens argue over about four different ways to handle the humans' situation. Either: leave the humans alone and see what happens, invite humans into the galactic community in hopes that this will mature the human race, dominate the humans by force to save them from themselves, or blow the planet to smithereens and kill all the humans so the humans won't make war on the galaxy. The grand finale of the series is when the human children come up with option number 5: "Give us teachers!" According to the children, if students can be taught right by alien teachers, eventually the human race will get over its violent tendencies.
- Technology Marches On: The URAT that Peter is given truly is a technical marvel. Imagine a device that fits in your hand which can be used as a video communicator, can look up any information, can give you directions, and can even be used to order merchandise to be delivered! In short, it is a smartphone. Maybe the aliens were right and we are advancing too fast.
- Translator Microbes: Most of the aliens and Peter get a translation device transplanted into their brain so they can communicate to each other. It even translates body language.
- Although it doesn't translate the meaning of the body language, or individual linguistic idioms, which can lead to in-universe "Blind Idiot" Translation. Doc Croc at one point uses a phrase that translates to "I hope I never have to eat your children". Um, thanks, I guess?
- Other in-universe Blind Idiot Translations include such gems as "I salute your sinus cavities" and "I put my hand beneath your grandmother's egg." Apparently these make sense to the alien using such body language, but not to the human protagonist or the readers. Which makes sense, given that certain English phrases (e.g. "Hit the hay") would be nonsensical to those unfamiliar with idioms in that language.
- The Federation: We never learn much about the alien's government, but it seems that most peaceful, intelligent species are part of a cooperative agency. Unlike most examples of this trope, humans are not a part of the Federation, which of course is the entire point of the story.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: This is what it seems like to Susan when Mr. Smith/Broxholm kidnaps Ms. Schwartz and replaces her as a boring and strict substitute teacher.
- Villain Protagonist: Duncan becomes this to an extent, since he starts off as The Bully.
- Violence Really Is the Answer: The aliens are generally all high-minded pacifists who abhor violence. However, some of them are willing to destroy the human race if that's what it takes to protect the rest of the universe from us.
- We Need to Get Proof: What kicks the plot of the first two books into action.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Inverted. Here it's the aliens who are trying to decide the relative value of human lives.
- Wise Beyond Their Years: Duncan becomes this after the aliens expand his mental capacity.
- Would Hit a Girl: During his time as The Bully, Duncan does this to Susan, although it was an accident.
- You Suck: There's a lot of attention devoted to the fact that the protagonists (and the similar-aged readers by proxy, which is deliberate on the author's part) have comparatively easy lives when compared to all the suffering humans abroad. Peter gets a You Suck when he sees the fact that Americans stockpile food and throw perfectly good food away if they have too much, while children around the world starve, and Peter is very uncomfortably reminded of the time when he got mad at his father for not having enough snacks in the house to keep him fed until dinner. Susan gets a You Suck when it's explained to her that contrary to what she previously thought, the humans can very easily solve all their problems if enough of them want to, the problem is not ability but apathy. This makes Susan mad enough that she resolves to do something about the world when she grows up, possibly even becoming a leader.