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 att...moreI’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 Justice? Teknophage? Mr. 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.(less)
Ever have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about M...moreEver have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about M Is for Magic. I didn’t know that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out, much less that he had pulled a Ray Bradbury by picking some of his stories appropriate for younger audiences, and packaging them together under a new title. Shoot, he even acknowledges Bradbury in the introduction and in “October in the Chair,” so it’s no surprise that he even adopted Bradbury’s old title format for the collection. Bradbury had R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space, and now we’ve covered the Ms, as well.
So, the reality is that if you’re a hardcore Gaiman fanboy, then you’ve read most all of these stories. There’s only one story here that’s an “exclusive” (”The Witch’s Headstone,” a wonderful romp that’s reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll’s early stuff), but I believe it’s going to see print in a future publication, anyway. The good news is that this is a lot like a “greatest hits” for Gaiman. “Chivalry,” possibly the best short work of fiction published last century, is there, as is “Troll Bridge” (which shows the darker side of growing up) and “The Price” (an even darker look at our pets and what they do for us), along with a newer “classic,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (an odd science fiction story that probably owes a small debt to Harlan Ellison).
Like any short story collection, there are a few misses here, including “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” but the premises and ideas behind the stories make up for what they lack in punch. Even Neil Gaiman can’t be on all the time, but even when he’s just puttering along, there’s much more going on to keep your interest than just the presentation. The story itself should keep you reading. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, mediocre Neil Gaiman is definitely better than the best of some other authors I’ve read.
So, there may not be anything new here, and it may not all represent the best stuff that Gaiman has written, but M Is for Magic is a great introduction to a wonderful author. That it’s been released just in time for you to pick the collection up for the young reader in your family for Christmas isn’t, I doubt, a coincidence. Besides, if you haven’t read “Chivalry” yet, then your life isn’t quite yet complete.(less)
If you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series....moreIf you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series. It follows the other books pretty logically, and it maintains the same sense of whimsy, adventure, and imagination that the previous books had. Unfortunately, it’s a little dense with detail, and more than a little overlong in its presentation.
Let’s be honest for a moment: Peter and the Starcatchers was really the only book necessary as a prequel to explain why Peter became the flying, ageless boy that we all know from fairy tales. My guess is that the story was originally planned as a standalone book, and after it proved to be popular, the publisher asked the authors to write the prequel into a trilogy. Think of how Star Wars was a nice, complete film in and of itself, and how The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi seemed a little … well, not tacked on, but at least produced based on the first movie’s success. The way the story develops over the course of the novels suggests that the Peter Pan prequels were written in much the same way.
To carry the Star Wars analogy a bit further, reading Peter and the Secret of Rundoon was a little like watching Revenge of the Sith — by the end, the authors seemed to be struggling to connect everything from the first two books to everything that followed after, resulting in some plot tangents that probably wouldn’t have existed in a standard book. It’s like they were trying to cram as much as possible into the final volume, making the end result a little messy. There seemed to be three major plots going on in the book, and each one resolved itself more or less independently from the others. In that sense, it was a little like watching the end of The Return of the King, with the viewer wondering when, exactly, the movie was going to officially end. And I probably should stop comparing the book with movie trilogies, lest I lose my point entirely.
So, it’s a good read, and reminiscent of the previous two books in the series. If you can divorce yourself from the fact that the last two books in the trilogy really aren’t necessary, and don’t mind the meandering cross-wise plots, you should enjoy the book. At they very least, they’re entertaining and compelling.(less)
Scat is the third in the series of juvenile novels Carl Hiaasen has written, and the craziest thing about the book (not counting the lunatics who popu...moreScat is the third in the series of juvenile novels Carl Hiaasen has written, and the craziest thing about the book (not counting the lunatics who populate the good and bad sides of his books) is that it reads exactly like any other Carl Hiaasen book, just without the sex or the deviants, with less violence, and with less swearing. The plot, the characters, and the environmental theme are all present in Scat, just like it’s been present in Hoot and Flush, and all of Hiaasen’s other novels for adults. So even if you’re not a fan of kids’ books, you might still find something of value in this novel.
This time around, the kids in the novel are part of a scheme to protect the endangered Florida panther from the schemes of an evil oil-drilling company, who are drilling illegally in parts of the wetlands. They team up with the usual gang of oddballs, including their biology teacher (a cranky, stereotypically “evil” teacher), their classmate (a possible juvenile delinquent), and some Hayduke wannabe who traipses around in the jungles, unafraid and seemingly immune to the dangers of such a lifestyle. If that sounds a lot like a guy named Skink to you, then you’re on the right track for this book.
Moreso than the typical Hiaasen plot is a sub-plot (sub-theme, really) involving the main character and his relationship with his father, a recently returned war veteran from Iraq who has lost his right arm. Hiaasen explores the way this sort of thing affects a father-son relationship, especially in a case where both father and son participate in very physical activities as a bonding process. There was something very genuine in that relationship, and how the author presented it, that was worth reading the rest of the novel to get. I mean, I enjoy Hiaasen’s books, so it’s not like I suffered through the rest of the story to participate that relationship, but that it was there added a certain depth to the story.
Like his other works, Scat is a book with a lot of macho manliness, even though it doesn’t lack for strong female characters. I think that Hiaasen is more an author for men than women, but if you like good, gripping stories with likeable characters and genuine relationships, you wouldn’t be remiss in reading this one. His juvenile novels are definitely a great place to start (though Hoot was better, and Flush was worse).(less)
The premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays in...moreThe premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays in a room that has 100 cupboards on the wall. With the manipulation of a couple of dials, the cupboards will take him to a variety of different worlds, some dangerous, some friendly, all fanciful. This is a perfect juvenile book, because what kid hasn’t wanted to find something like that and take advantage of it? I went through that when I was a kid, and I think that’s part of the reason why The Phantom Tollbooth was such a favorite books of mine (still is, actually).
The thing is, the premise was probably too promising. I’m not sure when it became commonplace for juvenile and YA authors to write in a telling style over a showing style. I mean, I sort of understand it: Your audience isn’t as attuned to subtlety as an adult would be, so you sometimes have to make your point more directly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids’ books that use subtlety to tell the story — any of the Harry Potter books and Sachar’s Holes are prime examples — so I’m not sure why some authors choose to tell instead of show. It just makes the book that much harder to read.
Aside from the narrative, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, though it didn’t really resonate with me. I had a good idea how the book was going to end, based on the way that the author presented the main characters, so I was reading to see if I was right, if nothing else. I didn’t feel much of an emotional attachment to the characters, though I thought the relationship between the main character and his uncle was interesting. By the end, though, I was just reading to finish the book.
With 100 Cupboards, I think my expectations were too high for me to really judge the book objectively. I’m sure that kids would like it, but it’s not a juvenile book that translates well for the adult reader.(less)
When I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a m...moreWhen I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a matter of finding a way to get the information in a way that appeals to me. I think that historical fiction is one way to catch up on the history I missed, even though in cases like Leviathan, it’s a little … well, different from the way history actually told it.
In this book, the start of another trilogy by the author who brought us the Uglies series, we see the development of World War I, through the eyes of the Clankers and the Darwinists. In this history, there are two different approaches to technology: One creates mechanical beasties that can be used as weapons of warfare; the other mixes DNA from different creatures to fabricate living, breathing pieces of warfare that draw on different animals in nature. It’s definitely a steampunk novel, where it’s set in the past, yet populated with modern technologies, but it’s an appealing, interesting background against which to see a different outlook on history. Plus, making the main character one of the key players in the outbreak, even when he isn’t representative of any historical figure, makes the drama and intrigue come to life a lot more than reading something out of a history book. Of course, I don’t think novels like this one will ever replace nonfiction, but it’s nice to see a novel that draws enough on reality — and acknowledges it in the afterword — that it will encourage readers to learn more about the subject on their own.
The story itself was gripping, since it flip-flopped between two characters, one from the Darwinists’ side (England), and one from the Clankers’ side (Austria). It’s sort of a cheap tactic to build suspense by going back and forth between characters, leaving them at critical points to ensure that the reader will keep reading to see what happened, but I can’t deny that it works. It was also a little more readable than the Uglies series, for a reason I can’t identify. Maybe it was the setting, or the backdrop, or the lack of necessity in creating a new slang to identify the characters’ cultures. Deryn, the main Darwinist character, has some slang so that she can swear without actually swearing in the book (like saying “Blisters!” instead of something that the publishers may not approve of), but other than that, the narrative flowed naturally, and never pulled me out of the story. I adore the premise behind Uglies, but this novel had a better flow.
I was a little disappointed that this book turned out to be the start of a trilogy, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I just hope I don’t forget too many of the details from one book to the next.(less)