Six Impossible Things

A Blog About Fiction and Reading

Extras

ExtrasExtras by Scott Westerfeld

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With The Last Days, Scott Westerfeld revealed himself to be someone who isn’t averse to revisiting a “finished” story and fleshing it out a bit more.  With the success of the Uglies trilogy, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that he went back to add a little more to the story.  I suppose I should, instead, ask if it was necessary.

Extras picks up a few years after Specials left off, when Tally Youngblood instituted the “mind rain” that cleared everyone’s minds of … well, you know, I shouldn’t mention that specifically, JUST IN CASE you haven’t read that far into the series just yet.  Let’s just say that Tally was a hero, everyone’s happy, and the world is a better place to live.  That’s not a spoiler, is it?

Anyway, this time Aya Fuse is the protagonist, and she lives in a Japan that has been much changed by Tally and her eco-revolution.  Here, currency is based off of popularity, where the more popular you are, the more clout you have in society, so people are obsessed with their rankings in the city.  Aya is one of those obsessed people, and she has her sights set on becoming more popular through her stories.  She’s what passes for a journalist in this era, and the more popular her stories are, the more famous she’ll become.  And, of course, the story that she thinks she’s breaking becomes more complicated and complex, which, naturally, is the story of Extras.

If you’re a fan of Westerfeld and the Uglies series, then you’ll read this book.  And to be honest, you should read this book.  It follows a natural progression from the end of Specials, and it’s a unique look at a possible future.  Just don’t be looking for something with the power and effect of Uglies, if only because it’s been done before.  Unlike The Last Days, Extras actually does belong in the Uglies universe, as the results of that series spur forward the events in this novel.  It just lacks the originality and message of the original series, if only because Aya, as a character, is less interesting.

Tally was unsettled at the beginning of her journey.  She thought she knew what she wanted, but she was hesitant and unsure.  Aya is different; she’s all about wanting to be popular (an important motivation in a YA book, I suppose) and moving her face-rank along, and she goes to some slightly unethical means to do so.  She’s less sympathetic, and a little harder to root for.  She comes around, as most protagonists do, but there’s still that lingering selfishness that makes her a sort of antithesis to Tally.  But, as the author mentions himself, this isn’t considered part of the Uglies trilogy, but is instead an additional story in that universe.

Another thing that bugs me about the book is some of the language Westerfeld uses.  Things are “brain-missing” or “truth-missing,” instead of “stupid,” “dumb,” or “a lie.”  I think the author’s intention is to create a sense of other-worldliness to the story to firmly make it a science fiction story, but the setting and technology do well to do this already, and I found this use of language jarring.  It took me out of the story.  This sort of language was present in the Uglies series as well, so this is nothing new; it’s just something that I noticed more strongly this time around.

So, the final tally (ha!) is that this is a decent book, is worth reading, and follows logically from the series that precedes it.  It’s not quite as interesting as that series, but it’s still a compelling read that leaves you with questions answered and unanswered.  That’s a heck of a lot more than I can say for The Last Days.

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January 14, 2008 Posted by | Reviews, YA Fiction | 2 Comments

InterWorld

InterWorldInterWorld by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

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I’m always a bit shocked when a Neil Gaiman book manages to make a public release without me knowing about it.  I wonder if I’m paying close enough attention to the blogs and journals that let me know about new releases.  I mean, it’s Gaiman, and I didn’t know about it?  What network did I miss?

InterWorld is a juvenile novel, not even a YA novel, though, and that might be how I missed it.  I almost missed out on M Is for Magic, and I remember the first time I saw Coraline was long after it had been originally released.   At least, that’s the story I’m telling.

InterWorld tells the story of Joey Harker, a young boy who discovers his ability to walk between similar worlds.  There’s a theory in quantum physics that predicts that any time a serious enough decision is made, the world splits at that point, and creates one world that goes off in the direction where the decision goes one way, and one world where the decision goes off in another direction.  Both worlds exist independently of each other, and each is equally valid and true.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that a world splits off whenever you decide to eat cereal for breakfast instead of eggs, but it could mean that The Man in the High Castle may exist as nonfiction in another dimension.

Joey is a Walker, and can move between all those worlds.  He’s also the most powerful Walker in existence, so he suddenly becomes the most popular guy in the InterWorlds, since the good guys, the bad guys, and the bad bad guys all want him for different reasons.  It’s all a bit hokey and convoluted, and also a bit contrived and forced.  It’s also awfully convenient in points, and shallow, and two-dimensional (ironically), and….

Well, if you’re a Neil Gaiman fanboy, nothing I can say will stop you from reading this book, except maybe this: This is not a Neil Gaiman book.  I say this partly because this simply doesn’t read like a Neil Gaiman novel.  I haven’t read much by Michael Reaves, but I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman, and think I can say with certainty that this is much more a Michael Reaves book than it is a Neil Gaiman book.  I think a certain part of me wants to say that it’s a Reaves novel because it’s just so bland, but that’s really not why I say that.  The book lacks a certain charm that Gaiman puts into his writing, and the language used doesn’t seem to be similar to that which Gaiman uses.  A footnote at the end of the book details that the story is over 10 years old, and was put together as a novel over a long weekend after existing first as a television proposal.   It doesn’t specify who served as the idea man, and who did all the grunt work, but it’s pretty obvious after finishing the book.

Look, remember Lady JusticeTeknophageMr. Hero the Newmatic Man?  They all served to prove that a Neil Gaiman idea could not turn into a Neil Gaiman story unless Gaiman himself wrote the words.  Unfortunately, InterWorld proves the same point.  The book isn’t a complete disaster (for the target age group, the story probably works quite well), but if you’re looking for good Gaiman fiction for kids, look for M Is for Magic or Coraline, instead.

January 2, 2008 Posted by | Juvenile Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment

Mister B. Gone

B.goneMister B. Gone by Clive Barker

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For a while, I thought that Clive Barker was going to give up on standard horror novels.  What with the popularity (and brilliance) of the Arabat series, paired with the success of his earlier dark fantasy novel for a younger audience, The Thief of Always, I thought maybe he was going to take the route of other horror authors, and focus on writing for teens.  Mister B. Gone marks his return to adult horror, and I’m pleased to say that it’s pretty good.

Barker has always been a little hit-or-miss with me.  On the one hand, I enjoy his knack for finding the disturbing without having to be grotesque about it.  One of my favorite scenes from any novel is the way that one creature’s eyes from Arabat crawl around on his face like insects, and even have the ability to crawl right off his body, and still see for him.  It sends one of those pleasant shivers down my spine, because it genuinely creeps me out, without being violent or graphic.  What’s odd about saying that is that Barker is known for being a progenitor of the “Splatterpunk” genre, where the graphic, detailed, violent imagery is as much a character of the stories as the people populating them.  So, in a way, part of me enjoyed the YA-focus of his other novels, since it seemed to distill the violence down to something more effective.  But that’s where it has always been hit-or-miss with me.

Mister B. Gone hits and misses, as well, for the same reasons.  The hit is a good one, and is the main premise of the novel: A demon is speaking to us from within the prison of the very book we’re reading.  In fact, it’s not really a book we’re reading, as it is a story we’re hearing told from the demon himself.   Barker uses this premise to full effect, finding ways to disturb us with this connection.  Just as we start to lose ourselves in the story, the demon comes back to speak to us, directly, and reminds us that we might have to pay a small price for hearing this story.  It works, and it works well.  I don’t think it will have anyone convinced that the premise could possibly be true, but like any good horror novel, it will make you wonder if you shouldn’t be listening to the demon’s entreaties a little more seriously….

The miss, though, is in the violence.  Graphic depictions seem unnecessary to me, even when they fit in with the stories (Charlie Huston, I’m looking in your direction…).  In this story, oddly enough, they seemed gratuitous, even if they were supposed to be spoken by a demon.  Those moments were gross-outs, not creep-outs, and I always prefer the latter to the former.  Gross-outs are cop-outs, to me, and are a cheap way of being “horror” when you can’t find enough of an emotional connection to truly frighten someone.  It’s like the difference between the movies The Haunting and Friday the 13th; one is an effective story of psychological manipulation, while the other is just a slasher flick.

Luckily, the violence isn’t as over-the-top as it could have been, and the premise of the story carries it well enough to compensate for what violence is in the book.  If you’re looking for a good, short scare, this might fit the bill.  It’s a good read that won’t keep you thinking for too long after the story ends, but the short time that it will take you to finish the book will more than make up for that fact.   It’s no Imajica or “In the Hills, the Cities,” but it shows that Barker hasn’t lost his touch just yet.

January 2, 2008 Posted by | Adult Fiction, Reviews | Leave a comment