Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Sci-Fi

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

I had 4 sci-fi titles bunched up together. Two of them are not going to make it to my eyes in time.

ringworld

Ringworld, an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Seven Seas, could not be procured even through my library system’s excellent ILL department, and I don’t think I’d like it enough to spend money on a digital copy. I would if I were actually on the committee, but luckily I don’t have to. It sounds like a cool idea, and I am tempted to read the original prose novel.

rust3

I am sad that my library does not have Rust V.3: Death of the Rocket Boy, by Royden Lepp, because it’s been out since May of 2014. This is a series, originally published by Archaia, that I’ve been following since it first came out. Each of its volumes has made it onto the Great Graphic Novels list, and last year the 2nd volume was in our top 10. I want to read the next (last?) installment of this story in an alternate historical time about a jet-pack/boy and his adventures in Canadian farmland. But I’m willing to bet that it makes it on the list again this year. I would buy a copy but it wouldn’t make it to me in time. Bad planning, me.

But anyway, on to what I did manage to read:

boom_woods_v1

The Woods Volume 1: The Arrow

James Tynion IV, writer

Michael Dialynas, artist

BOOM! Studios  

Anticipation/Expectation Level: It was on my radar but I didn’t know anything about it other than the cover looked cool.

My Reality: I had so much fun reading this. In many ways it’s very much a classic high school adventure, but the high school is suddenly transplanted to an alien planet with an extra-mysterious conspiracy added in (I will say no more about that). There’s a survival/road-trip element as a group of the students head out with a super-smart loner at their head, following him because he says he knows whats going on and because the scene inside the school itself is turning into a shitshow, with the gym teacher using all of his Machiavelli against the go-getter Student President, with the principal as a pawn between them. The jocks, nerds, and everyone in-between have roles to play. It gets heavy in a couple of places, but mostly maintains its humor within the tense situations. I loved the coloring here – very purply and saturated.

Will Teens Like It?: Yes, I can see myself booktalking this one for summer reading or something.
Is it “great” for teens?: yes.

Art Taste:

dinosaurnow ourfuture

alexada_tp_v1

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, writers

Jonathan Luna, artist

Image

Anticipation/Expectation Levels: Pretty much the same as The Woods.

My Reality: Yay! This is speculative sci-fi that explores technology, identity, AI, android rights, loneliness, responsibility, and grandmothers who mean well. Luna’s style of drawing is perfect – very realistic and flat, with an eye for subtle changes in facial expressions. I almost feel like Alex is too good to be true, but I have to remind myself that there are guys out there who wouldn’t be total creeps in this situation. And he may change in the following issues. If you can’t tell from the cover and my rambling, Alex is gifted a robot companion by his grandma because she thinks he is being depressed for too long after his breakup. Alex is weirded out that Ada, the android, has no opinions and defers to his wants and needs. So he decides to figure out what to do about it.

Will Teens Like it?: Yes

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

AlexAda03_mnchmnch

Holy Nano-Tech, Batman, BZRK Is Awesome!

A Review of BZRK by Michael Grant

Egmont USA, 2012

BZRK by Michael Grant BZRK by Michael Grant

by REBECCA, July 21, 2013

hook

On one side of this near-future war, the Armstrong brothers seek mindless utopia; on the other, a guerrilla group (code name BZRK) fights to keep our messed up humanity. The technology is nano; the battleground is the human brain. Can the hackers of BZRK intervene, and save humanity from itself?

worldview

nanoscale

a nanometer is one billionth of a meter

In the near future, humans have developed the ability to manipulate nanotechnology so deftly that certain highly-skilled operators can simultaneously see from the perspectives of two tiny biots as well as their own. They can direct these nanobots with their brains because they are, strictly speaking, part of them. They can tell these biots to climb in through your eye socket and make their way to your brain. And then they can control you. Note: in case it’s not clear, THIS SHIT IS TERRIFYING! The Armstrong brothers are conjoined twins who have built an empire and are now leveraging their wealth and power in attempting to turn the world into a utopia where there will be no more war and we’ll all get along. (I think we all know how that one’s going to turn out, guys.)

Opposed to the Armstrongs is BZRK, a ragtag group of hackers who are fighting against this takeover, and are willing to do whatever it takes to stop the Armstrongs. This is no Hackers; this is high-level international politicking. And it’s all done with something so small it’s invisible.

BZRK is told from the perspectives of both BZRK and the Armtsrongs’ team of hackers, and it is a thrill ride, y’all. Michael Grant does an amazing job of making nanotechnology come alive. The explanations are rigorous enough that I was completely convinced that this will all come to pass soon, and I have actually not been this horrified while reading a novel in a while. Manipulating biots is sort of like a combination of playing a video game, commanding soldiers, and being in a virtual reality simulation. Sometimes while running for your life in the real world. The hackers call having your biots on or in someone’s body as “being in the meat” and the descriptions of the landscapes of the human body are thrilling. It sounds a bit like this ride at Universal Studios, Body Wars, where you’re a blood cell or something and you move through the body! My mom got totally sick on it, but I thought it was awesome.

I was lately bemoaning my own lackluster science experience in middle and high school and saying to a friend that if I had learned about science from doing research into elements of my favorite science fiction books I would have been totally captivated. BZRK is one of those books that I immediately recommended to everyone science-y that I know (which is, like, two people, so spread the word).

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

BZRK Reloaded by Michael GrantGrant’s goal seemed to be to terrify the ever-loving bejeezus out of me, and he succeeded unequivocally. Reading about fighting a battle where the landscapes are the surface of someone’s optic nerve, or the folds of their brain? Truly awesome. And that’s where the real innovation of this novel was—the ideas. I was sold on them 100% and I can’t wait to read the sequel. But the ideas aren’t instead of a plot or good characters. The dialogue in BZRK is great, and the characters well delineated. There is definite room for development in the sequel, BZRK Reloaded, out October 8th.

Bonus: I have never met a ragtag group of hackers that I didn’t like! I also really love that we’re at the point now where a book can just go ahead and assert that the side that is trying for utopia is clearly the villains and not need to explain why because we all totally get it. Refreshingly, BZRK does some things that make them just as villainous as the hackers for the other side, so this isn’t a sunshine and rainbows high school computer club that makes us all warm and fuzzy.

BZRK is violent, harsh, and intense, and I loved every minute of it. Read this immediately if you like sci-fi, tech, strategy, hacking, and good, old-fashioned awesomeness.

procured from: the library

Six Teens From Around the Globe + One Locked Ward = a New SciFi Mystery

A Review of Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon

Soho Teen (2013)

Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon

by REBECCA, May 1, 2013

characters

Sophie: California terminal cancer patient who doesn’t mind dying, she tells us, as she dies … or does she?

Declan: charismatic petty thief from Galway who rips off the wrong people and gets shot … or does he?

Anat: the fierce military trainee from Tel Aviv is risking it all for love … including her life

hook

Sophie, Declan, and Anat would have died at the same moment. Instead, they (and several others) wake up in an unfamiliar deserted hospital. Where are they? Or when? And why them? In order to escape the hospital, and figure out how to get home, they have to work together. But some of them know more than they’re letting on. And some of them are not what they seem.

worldview

The Midnight Club by Christopher PikeFrom the blurb and the first, say, ten per cent of the book, I thought this was going to be a kind of supernatural tale about human experiments with death, or teens delving into the afterlife. You know, a kind of The Midnight Club meets Flatliners. And I was into itThe Midnight Club is like totally my fave Christopher Pike and stuff. Five terminally ill teens living in Rotterdam House meet (at midnight) to tell stories as a ward against the fear of death; they pledge that the first to die must send a sign to the rest of them . . . from the other side. The theme of trying to touch the afterlife is particularly poignant with teens since they’re, like, the opposite of death, so I had high hopes here, and loved the idea of death as a universal fear bringing together teens from all over the world. 

Well, anyway, that’s not really what Strangelets is about. But you should all read The Midnight Club in case you haven’t (since sixth grade).

Still, the first quarter of Strangelets is intriguing. We are introduced to Sophie, Declan, and Anat, each in the moments leading up to their almost-deaths. When they wake in the hospital, they meet Zain, the friendly boy from New Delhi, Yosh, the shy and soft-spoken girl from Kyoto, and Nico, the hale blondie from Switzerland. Together, they have to find a way out, determine where the hell they are, and figure out why the parking lot outside looks like the broken-down cars have sat there long enough to grow moss and amass inches of crud on them.  If they want answers, they’ll have to venture outside. But something is out there, and it’s not just the bears (oh my). There is genuine creepiness here (the creepiest of which I won’t spoil) and atmosphere that has some serious promise.

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

The first half-ish of Strangelets is a taut, well-paced mystery with sci-fi tendencies and I really enjoyed it. Gagnon doesn’t give too much away and her characters have distinct, recognizable personalities. It’s nothing particularly revolutionary, but it’s confidently done—more locked-room mystery than dystopia. But oh, holy jesus, the second half reads like someone took a wrecking ball to Jurassic ParkThe Island of Dr. Moreauand a few of the wackier Torchwood episodes, and then Mod Podged it all back together. That isn’t to say that Gagnon won’t attract fans of this mashup; it’s certainly not the dystopian fare many publishers have been rolling out lately.

Strangelets by Michelle GagnonAnd here’s the thing: if Strangelets’ only issues had been the grab-bag nature of its genre choices, I wouldn’t have thought much of it except, oh, ok, not really satisfying to me, but sure. It’s that this (unsatisfactory) science-inflected twist on a dystopia doesn’t mean anything. Where the conceit (no spoilers) might have shown true pathos or raised interesting questions about scientific ethics, or even—even!—taken a shot at saying something about how everything is connected, à la The Butterfly Effect, it would have been more interesting than what it did. Which is nothing. I love a good ole sci-fi romp, believe me, but what makes the best sci-fi delightful is how it expands our notions of the possible (or the impossible!), and how it shows us how deeply that which is most familiar to us resonates with that which is most alien, neither of which Strangelets even approaches. And I’m not going to even dignify the “romance” with a comment.

Equally frustrating was that while Strangelets held out a hope of being one of the very few YA novels—and even fewer sci-fi YA novels—to bring us an international cast of characters, it ended up reinscribing some pretty troubling conservative international and racial politics. Thea over at The Book Smugglers says it well: there is a “potentially worrisome, stigmatic portrayal of the characters of color (Anat, Zain, and Yosh) – one of these characters is the first to die, the other a villain, and the other meets a sad, cruel fate. Meanwhile for the white characters (Sophie, Declan, Nico), one holds the key to understanding everything, and two live happily ever after.” This is made worse for me because our happy couple are the least interesting characters. Sophie is totally boring in every way. Even the grace with which she accepts death after being ill for so long, which, ordinarily, I might find refreshing, smacks of  an annoying kind of Little Eva-esque woe-is-me-she’s-too-good-for-this-cruel-worldiness. And Declan is a pretty predictable collection of generic charisma and obligatory Irishisms. It’s Anat who I was most interested in, and who seemed to be the meatiest character in terms of the potential for a dynamic ending to her story. Alas, it isn’t to be.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book by the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Strangelets by Michelle Gagnon is available now.

Looper is satisfyingly speculative.

photo by robert.molinarus on flickr

Reasons Why You Should Go Watch Looper Right Now

by Tessa
1. It does that delicious thing where the future is like today, only worse, but not ostentatiously, Johnny Mnemonically different. And it goes through the day-to-day of the future without being overly explanatory.  For example, the drug of choice in the future is ingested via eyedrops. No voiceover explains what it is or how it works, or even what people call it. Because there’s no need to.  (There is a voiceover that comes and goes but I wasn’t too annoyed, which is saying something because I really hate voiceover and I think it’s lazy.)

2. Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  He’s got such a nice smile, and is a great actor. He talks just like Bruce Willis. (I kind of enjoyed how they sculpted his face to look like Willis, but in all the closeups you could see the pancake makeup on him).

photo by Gage Skidmore via flickr, hearts by me

3. It doesn’t do what you think it’s going to do. As far as the looping stuff. And it doesn’t rush to a violent climax just because that’s what movies do.  It doesn’t end with one long explosion boom boom crunch screech chase, but intercuts the violence with a thought out plot acted by characters with plausible motivations.

4. It answers the time travel question of: but doesn’t it change stuff? With: yes. And no. So it’s more about accepting the mutability of things than explaining hard and fast rules.  I’m sure there are plot holes, and I don’t care/

5. Paul Dano being a wobbly-voiced fuckup.

6. It feels entertaining but it has weight behind it. It’s long, but just long enough.

7. A four year old kid with the cutest chubby cheeks and some really great acting chops.

8. People’s motivations were not only plausible, but changed during the movie as their characters rethought themselves, like real people!

9. The script successfully incorporates the term “blunderbuss” into its worldbuilding.

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s wardrobe.

Tessa’s post-Looper reading suggestions, in no particular order.

Parable of the Talent & Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Shadoweyes by Ross Campbell

Deadenders by Ed Brubaker & Warren Pleece

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer

Finder by Carla Speed McNeil

I’m guessing… Philip K. Dick, although I haven’t read any of his books (yet).

Perfect Is As Perfect Does: Review and GIVEAWAY of Origin

A Review of Origin by Jessica Khoury and a GIVEAWAY!

Razorbill (Penguin) 2012

Origin Jessica Khoury

By REBECCA, September 24, 2012

characters

Pia: genetically engineered to be immortal, Pia is working to become a scientist so she can make more like her

Eio: boy from the nearby village, he teaches Pia that some things are more powerful than scientific logic

Uncle Paolo: Pia’s main teacher and mentor, he cares only about creating a race of immortals

Sylvia: Pia’s biological mother, she too sees Pia as a means to an end

Uncle Antonio: treats Pia like a real girl rather than just a science experiment.

Aunt Harriet: a new arrival to the jungle, she brings with her a boarding school girl’s knowledge of escape routes and lies

hook

Pia is genetically engineered to be immortal. The first successful one of her kind, she has grown up in Little Cambridge (Little Cam for short), a research facility in the middle of a jungle, where she is being groomed to join the team of scientists whose job it is to create a race of Pias. On her 17th birthday, a storm gives Pia the chance to enter the jungle beyond the walls of Little Cam for the first time. There, she meets Eio and begins a relationship with him and the other Ai’oans (the native tribe near whom Little Cam was settled). Little by little, Pia begins to doubt the total scientific detachment she has always been taught to value, and as she does, Little Cam begins to disgorge secrets that make Pia doubt that its single-minded devotion to science is as pure as she once believed. In the end, it may come down to a choice between being perfect and being human.

worldview

In Forever Young Adult’s review of Origin, Jenny suggests that this is a novel that will appeal more to some younger readers (teens, that is), and I absolutely agree, because Pia’s mindset is very sheltered. Pia knows nothing of the world outside Little Cam, not even which jungle she’s in (the Amazon). She isn’t taught history, politics, or the humanities. She can draw, but learned to do so to render specimens. She didn’t grow up with any other kids. She knows that nothing can hurt her and that she’ll never die. As such, she’s incredibly naive and non-analytical. Despite the author telling us that she is genius-level smart, we never see her intelligence in any way except her memory of chemical compounds and the Latin names for plants.

For all of these reasons, Pia is, for me, a totally unappealing character. I think she’s sympathetic, sure, and I imagine that many people will be able to identify with her frustrations about not having access to the secret of her own immortality, and her immediate attraction to Eio. But, while I’m sympathetic to the fact that Pia has been treated like a science experiment, it doesn’t make reading about her any more interesting. And, while I enjoyed learning about the secret backstory of Little Cam (because, of course, as well all know, every scientific facility that a main character thinks is squeaky clean is hiding a horrible, gruesome past), it was just one variation on a theme I’ve read many times before.

Just after finishing Origin, I was telling my sister about it, trying to explain why it had bored me. Because, don’t get me wrong: Origin is well-written, totally competently-plotted, and has a fair amount of world building. But it felt completely brittle to me—a novel engineered to be enjoyable by combining the right ingredients, just as Pia is engineered to be perfect. A strong effort in all the particulars that shattered at the slightest nudge. In particular, I was explaining to my sister that it’s the characters that really made it fall flat for me. Pia is brilliant and immortal. Brilliance and immortality are concepts that totally interest me. Yet, Pia’s immortality had no impact. Partly because she’s 17 and most 17-year-old characters don’t have to worry about mortal threats anyway; partly because she has never experienced what death is (except in lab animals) so it’s a merely quantitative characteristic for her; partly because until pretty late in the book she views immortality as a totally desirable trait; partly because everyone in Little Cam is brilliant, so it’s a meaningless distinction? Probably all of the above.

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardAnd unlike the genius of a character like Ender from Ender’s Game (who my sister cited as another character whose genius is often described as cold and detached), who is valued because of his ability to innovate, Pia is valued for her ability to execute. She’s been fast-tracked to single-mindedly dedicate her life to the scientific pursuits for which her mentors have trained her. In this way, Jessica Khoury sets up what will be a book-long battle for Pia, between, on one hand, perfection, detachment, and the noble work of creating her race, and, on the other hand, imperfection (humanness), love, and happiness. In short, that is (as Khoury sets it up), the battle between science and nature, the battle between scientist and “savage”, the battle between knowledge and intuition, and the battle between control and impulse.

Friends, say it with me now: binaries aren’t real. Therefore, they make boring tensions in books. So, while I think that this might be a great read for someone who hasn’t had much exposure to the idea that science and nature are connected rather than opposite, or that there are different kinds of knowledge, some of which come from study and some of which come from intuition or peer-wisdom, to those of us who’ve thought such thoughts before, Origin is pretty flat.

what was this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

I feel confused about the book’s intentions because, as I mentioned, it struck me as kind of a paint-by-numbers book that took things the author or publisher knew would be appealing and applied them formulaically. If the intention here is purely to entertain, then I think many people will be entertained. The plot moves quickly and there is suspense. Oh, and there’s a jaguar that is Pia’s pet, so that’s fun to think about. There’s a romance . . . kind of. I think this is what the kids are calling “insta-love.” I was totally weirded out by Eio. For one thing, Pia has no exposure to the notion of beauty in humans, except that people tell her she’s perfect looking (in the context of being perfect in every other way, too, though). Yet, she still refers to Eio’s “abs”! I found this outrageous. Even if she had a biological reaction to the play of muscular strength under skin, I refuse to believe that she—scientist that she is—would shorten a scientific name for a muscle group and use it to describe something attractive. There, I said it. That’s been bugging me for days.

Scott Westerfeld Uglies SeriesBack to business: Eio is a nice guy. He certainly loves Pia (we don’t know why—being able to love immediately seems to be part of his “jungle-ness”), cares for children, is polite to his elders, and does brave and idiotic things, like risking his life to “save” a girl who cannot die. But . . . there’s just no other way to say it: Khoury has made Eio the stereotype of the noble savage, and made him “more attractive” than the other Ai’oans (with their “flat noses” and “slant[ed]” eyes) by giving him mixed parentage (113). Meh, I dunno, y’all. I just thought Origin had it wrong on all counts. It was squirmingly exoticizing when describing the Ai’oans and their charming native myths, and it was annoyingly anti-intellectual in the picture it painted of science. Don’t get me wrong: I’m as taken by a story of science pushed too far as the next person. It’s just that there are so many books that have done it well (Frankenstein, the Uglies Series) and Origin sets up false binaries and then depends on us buying into them to wring suspense from their demolition. And did I mention that the ending is mega-predictable?

So, this is Khoury’s first novel and it got the Penguin treatment (meaning, who knows if she was asked to commercialize certain elements, etc), so I’m curious to see what she does next. Overall, I think Origin is a very competent novel that will likely appeal to a wide audience. I just don’t happen to part of that audience. But, that doesn’t mean you won’t be! So:

GIVEAWAY!

Because I like you so much, I want to give one lucky reader my copy of Origin! There are four easy ways you can enter to win. Just remember to tell me how you entered in the comments or your entry can’t count! You can:

1. Follow us on Twitter (@we_eat_YA)

2. Follow Crunchings & Munchings via email (go to the right sidebar of the blog and enter your email where it says “follow blog via email”)

3. Follow us on Facebook

4. Link up to crunchingsandmunchings.wordpress.com somewhere on your blog

I’ll announce the winner here in one week!

procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher with no compensation on either side. Origin is available now.

The Only Ones: a package tied up with a Möbius bow

The Only Ones

Aaron Starmer

Delacorte Press, 2011

characters

Martin Maple, raised in island isolation on mechanical milk
George, a Friend
Kelvin, an absent founding father
Darla, a go-getter with a monster truck
Lane, performance artist, keeper of her own secrets
Nigel, shadow leader of a not-so-Peaceable Kingdom
Chet, underestimated gardener
Felix, a different kind of weaver of webs
Henry, sneaky peanut roaster
Trent, small but responsible
Martin’s Dad & Mom, alive in absence

hook
Is the best leader for a recently deserted world a boy who has grown up without people?

worldview & intention achievement
The world in The Only Ones is our world, up until page 15. Then it is our world with one major difference: nearly every human in it has disappeared in an instant.   The realization of this is slow, however, because it’s seen through the eyes of Martin Maple, a young boy who has lived on a small island (possibly somewhere in New England) for his whole life.  His education consists of working on a machine with his father.  He doesn’t know what the machine is, just how it is put together.  He has one book of fantasy and sci-fi stories that keeps him entertained.

Two things occur to help Martin grow up. When Martin is 9 years old, he meets a friend.  He’s not supposed to have friends so George remains a secret.  George has access to books, and soon Martin treats George as his own personal librarian and not much else.  Not being socialized, Martin has a slippery grasp on what friendship requires.  Then, when Martin is 10, his father leaves to find the last piece for the machine. He doesn’t return–his empty boat washes up on shore on Martin’s 11th birthday.  The next summer, there are no summer people on the island.  Martin realizes that something is going on.  He’s not exactly lonely, but he does want to find his father.  So he leaves the island for the first time, almost 13 years old.

and Martin finds... parking lots. jk!

The world has been left to itself for a couple of years when Martin finds his first town.  He’s nearly eaten by a bear in a library.  Luckily, his upbringing gives him the instinct to escape and the wherewithal to steal the fox that the bear had in its mouth for his own meal.  This is when Martin meets Kelvin.  Kelvin looks like nothing more than a skinny kid in a cape, but he’s very self-assured.  He tells Martin that everyone on Earth has disappeared, except for the inhabitants of Xibalba.  By way of explanation he says:

“You know it’s actually spelled with an ‘X,’ but sounds like an ‘Sh,’ as in ‘Who gives a Xibalba?’ You just find it. Like the rest of them did.  You’ll know you’re close when you smell the nuts.” (34)

And (a bit incredibly) that’s what Martin does.

From this point on the book starts to come into its own, and its intentions become clearer. It’s part mystery, part exploration of society, part whimsical speculative fantasy.  What it surprisingly isn’t is a story of how the kids in Xibalba survive–they just loot towns with a monster truck (belonging to Darla, a nominal leader).

That’s a refreshing aspect for me as a reader–I’ve read many a survival narrative this year, and while I enjoy the permutations, it was refreshing to see this perspective.  At least at this point, they haven’t entered the territory of The Road because nothing apocalyptic has really happened, just something Rapture-iffic.  So the Earth is eminently plunderable.  Each citizen gets his or her own house and each contributes a skill to society, which therefore ends up being barter-based.  So basically what they’re left with is how to grapple with what happened to them.

There’s no way to know why everyone disappeared, or know how.  They have to come up with their own mythologies.  As we come to meet the inhabitants of Xibalba and their quirks (believe me, there are quirks galore), we also learn that there’s already some tragic history to the town.  Starmer drops little hints at this, simultaneously profiling characters, moving their individual arcs forward, and setting elements in place so that Martin becomes the catalyst of activity and hope in Xibalba, while bringing the plot around again to his mysterious machine.  He wants to tie everything together neatly and leave us knowing not only what happened, but what will happen in this world he’s built.

That’s a lot to do in one book, and what makes The Only Ones fall a little short as a reading experience is this ambition to create a neatly-folded Möbius strip of a book to give to the reader.  At the risk of ***SPOILING THE PLOT***, as I got further into it, I couldn’t help but compare it to the 2010 Newbery Medal winner, When You Reach Me, because of one certain similarity, and having this one come up short.  Because When You Reach Me didn’t try to explain everything. That’s totally unfair of me to do, I know.

While I would occasionally fall into the world of The Only Ones because of the tantalizing nature of the empty world and the delicious little details that Starmer writes into Xibalba as a place and into the citizens of Xibalba – the first piece of performance art that Lane shows Martin, for example, is wonderful to imagine, and wonderfully written — I couldn’t fully go there.  Violence happens in this story and it’s pretty unaffecting.

If I had to put my finger on it I’d say that the main culprit for this it would be the dialogue. Something about it is inauthentic — and maybe the fact that I can’t put my finger on quite what is an indication that it’s just my personal dealio.  It’s a little too much old-fashioned, a little too stylized, and then sometimes swerves into modern day interjections like “Mutha!” or describing something as “sweet” while simultaneously spouting things like: “Genuine issue, bona fide. A prophet. I kid you not. The one thing King Kelvin should have respected.” (74).  Or on the next page a character says “Whatever you fancy”.  Starmer is fond of shortening words for the indication of casual speech – Just sayin. Friggin. Tell ‘em. Everyone was a little too slick and quick to quip, ready to turn into a gangster’s moll or a Hardy Boy.

Aaron Starmer, I admire your guts. (photo by messtiza on flickr)

Would less stylization in speech have made it easier to swallow the premise? Probably not.  When Starmer does his big reveal, it’s a lot to swallow. I can’t help but say he’s set himself up for this by providing an explanation.  My first reaction was to think that it’s pretty impossible.  But it takes guts to put your plot out there with its little belly sticking up, waiting to be poked.  So overall I honor his bravery but have to say that if this were an amusement park ride it would be one that sounds really fun, starts off with a satisfying loop, has a stuttering finish, but would be worth recommending to friends nevertheless (unless they are really logical and picky people).

 

readalikes

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead – I mentioned this in the review, so…. yeah. There’s one big similarity and it’s a spoiler for both books! I shall say no more.


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – Because it also has a naive boy going on a quest as a narrator and they’re both about Society. But this one is set on another world. And it may make you bite your fingernails.  Because it has nail-biting suspense–and it’s the first in a trilogy.

digressions & nitpicks

1. One of the things that made me want to read this book in the first place was the cover. I love night scenes with lighted elements. (When I got the book, I wasn’t such a fan of the silhouettes of the kids themselves. Somehow they managed to look like jerks, in silhouette. Which they weren’t, in the book.)  It’s drawn by Lisa Ericson, who doesn’t yet have a working website, but who does share a name with an instructor of seated aerobics!  What a nice surprise.

2. Some weird things I noted.  Or… let me nitpick about stuff.  On page 174 a character comes back from the dead to help out with stenography.  On page 185 woodgrain is referred to as fiery.  Actually “fierier”, which indicates to me that the author is used to thinking of wood in these terms. I kind of like that glimpse into his personal vocabulary. Similarly, on page 305 a smile is described as “impious” but from context I’d say that it should be “impish”.

I got this book from: the library

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