Posts tagged ‘Science Fiction’

The Fog Diver

Fog DiverTitle: The Fog Diver
Author: Joel Ross
ISBN: 9780062352934
Pages: 328 pages
Publisher/Date: Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, c2015.

My name is Chess, and I was born inside a cage.
Imagine a wooden platform jutting from a mountain cliff. Now picture a chain falling from that platform and vanishing into the Fog, a deadly white mist that covers the entire Earth.
That’s where I was born: locked in a cage, at the end of a chain, inside the Fog.
And I would’ve died there, too, if Mrs. E hadn’t saved me.
When she saw my face for the first time, wisps of Fog swirled inside my right eye, shimmering white shapes that marked me as a freak. That’s why I’ve spent thirteen years keeping my head down, staying quiet and afraid–but now Mrs. E needs help, now <em>she</em> needs saving.
It’s time to stop hiding. Everything is going to change. (1-2)

Scientists built nanites to clean up the polluted Earth, only they made them too smart. The nanites turned on their creators, scrubbing the Earth clean not just of pollution, but of the creators of the pollution. Now mankind has retreated to the mountain tops, and fog divers like Chess literally dive into the fog from flying barges to scavenge for resources. He and his rag-tag team of orphans were brought together by Mrs. E. Dreams of ascending to the safer parts of the mountain have always been a dream, but now they need money and resources to get Mrs. E the help she needs as fog sickness starts taking over. Fog sickness isn’t the only risk though, as the past Mrs. E rescued Chess from comes back to haunt him and hunt for him. Will they be able to escape all the dangers, or will Chess take his last dive?

For fans of the television series Firefly (which I’m watching right now for the first time), this street urchin crew may seem familiar. Maybe author Joel Ross, making his middle-grade debut, is a fan himself? Chess takes the place of River, being hidden in plain sight and with skills no one fully understands. But he is also part Zoe, serving as a second-in-command position to Hazel. Hazel is the captain of the crew, and much like Mal she has her unexpected soft side. Chess says she “wore long, flowing skirts, dreamed of fancy dances, loved pretty sunsets . . . and could bark out orders faster than the toughest junkyard boss.” (28-29) Pilot Swedish has the skills of Wash but the attitude of Jayne. Bea is Kaylee, the spunky, overly enthusiastic and optimistic mechanic, down to talking to the electronics and naming them.

The crew members are unique and highly developed, with characteristics and flaws that will allow readers to relate with at least someone, whether it’s the snarky asides of sarcasm, quick-witted thinking, or the more vulnerable moments of emotion. They form a tight-knit family who cares about and trusts one another, even when they are surprised by another’s actions or a never-before revealed secret. It reads like a swashbuckling pirate adventure, with rigging and scavengers, hidden treasures and double crosses. Highly recommended to those readers looking for something unique, or maybe those too young for the airships of Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

The allusions to the world before are the basis for most of the laughs in this post-apocalyptic, dystopian world. There is little in the way of modern day conveniences, but that goes unremarked upon as they wrap their heads around what little they do know, and make up their own explanations for what they don’t understand. The characters routinely improvise, interchange, and just plain invent references. Primarily, these confusions come from Chess, who has a scrapbook made by his father of various cultural references from before the fog.

  • Chess decides against repeating the “old tale of ‘Skywalker Trek,’ about a space war between the Klingons and the Jedi, set in a future when people lived on distant planets and fought Tribbles, Ewoks, and Borgs.” (17-18).
  • He describes Valentine’s Day as “an old holiday […] when they used to wear green and say ‘be mine’ and kiss under a shamrock. […] They gave flowers to their sweethearts.” (82)
  • “I’m not sure the shell actually snaps.”
    “Of course it does! A snapping turtle is a turtle that snaps, like a bobcat is a cat that bobs. It says so in the name.”
    “Sure,” I said. “And grizzly bears loooove to grizz.” (178)
  • There’s also a reference to weird animals of the past like spelling bees and Hello Kitties which of course I can’t locate currently.

There are a lot of tight escapes, narrow misses, and nail-biting excitement, which is completely inline with the life they lead. While their actions are slightly more legal than the ones seen in Firefly, they are still the underdog in a rigged system. They don’t even own the ship outright, renting it from corrupt folks, making every effort to get out from under the debt and find that big score that will put them on the top. The technology is slightly steampunk in nature, although I would have liked more details on how they were able to adapt to this world above the clouds that today we would deem uninhabitable. While Chess’s rumored existence is initially stereotypical and his ability to go unnoticed for 13 years remarkable, the sudden interest in his skills and presence is explained adequately. The climatic end is just that, and it’s only at the last heart-stopping page that you receive a sudden but satisfactory resolution to the story, worthy of Ocean’s Eleven. While enjoyable as a stand-alone, there is definitely a sequel in the making, with The Lost Compass arriving in May 2016 which will hopefully bring more answers.

Fuzzy Mud

Fuzzy Mud.jpgTitle: Fuzzy Mud
Author: Louis Sachar
ISBN: 9780385743785
Pages: 183 pages
Publisher/Date: Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2015.

With sudden ferocity, Chad lunged at him. He slugged Marshall in the face, and then in the side of the neck.
Tamaya screamed.
Marshall tried to protect himself, but Chad hit him twice more, then grabbed him by the head and threw him to the ground.
“Leave him alone!” Tamaya shouted.
Chad glared at her. “You’re next, Tamaya,” he said.
Marshall tried to get up, but Chad’s knee caught the side of his head, knocking him back down.
Tamaya didn’t think. She just reacted.
She reached into the fuzzy mud and grabbed a handful of thick and gooey muck. She ran at Chad, and as he turned toward her, she shoved it into his face. (32-33)

Marshall always walks younger neighbor Tamaya home from their prestigious school. In order to avoid a fight with antagonistic new kid Chad, Marshall takes them deep into the neighboring woods, but Chad follows. They escape, although the next day they realize they might have discovered something that impacts not just them but possibly the entire world. Sachar makes it pretty clear that the fuzzy mud is the culprit for all their troubles, especially since the book is titled after the substance. Excerpts from public hearings that take place prior to and after the primary events are lightly interspersed, but they serve more as info dumps and red herrings in building suspense then actually advancing the plot. The happy ending is plausible if a little convenient, but sometimes scientific discoveries happen that way. For younger readers not ready for Hiassen, this might be a good introduction to the eco thriller genre.

Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway

Cosmoe's Wiener GetawayTitle: Galactic Hot Dogs: Cosmoe’s Wiener Getaway
Author: Max Brallier
Illustrator: Rachel Maguire and Nichole Kelley
ISBN: 9781481424943
Pages: 300 pages
Publisher/Date: Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

It’s Evil Princess Dagger.
And she’s aboard our ship!
“What the butt?! What are you doing here?!”
“Stealing your ship, silly. I’m an evil princess. Y’know?”
I start stuttering, “NO-NO. NO-NO. NO. You can’t be here! Your evil mom is gonna think we kidnapped you. She’ll KILL us!”
Princess Dagger is about to respond, when—BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP “Brace for impact,” our pet robot, F.R.E.D., says.
“SMUDGE!” I exclaim. “They’re trying to shoot us out of space!”
The princess has a sly smile on her face. “Duh! They think you kidnapped me.” (18-19)

Cosmoe is in TROUBLE! All he did was enter a giant hot dog into the Intragalactic Food Truck Cook-Off, which then got stolen by the Evil Princess Dagger, who then stows away on their ship. The ship is being chased by the Evil Queen Dagger and all her minions, initially just to reclaim her run-away daughter. But when the whole galaxy is informed that Cosmoe found a stranded zombie pirate ship yielding a piece of a Map-O-Sphere that reveals the location of an extreme evil when fully assembled, Cosmoe, his buddy Humphree, and the princess have more than the Evil Queen to worry about.

Yes, the book is just as wildly frenetic as that summary. Zombie pirates, references to movies like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Indiana Jones (even though Cosmoe is the only Earthling in the cast and therefore the only one who understands them) and ongoing laser blasts battles are found within the pages. If Cosmoe is comparable to Han Solo, and Humphree is the equivalent to Chewie, then I guess that means the Evil Princess assumes the role of Leia and the Evil Queen a version of Darth Vader, but that would be doing an injustice to both the original and this not quite parody. Made up slang makes it very younger kid friendly, including “What the Butt!” and “Smudge!” and silly stupidity fills the pages alongside the graphic novel style illustrations. Longer then Captain Underpants or Geronimo Stilton, it’s still accessible to that audience while appealing to older readers. There is very little character development, with no explanation as to why Princess Dagger feels this compulsion to be evil only in the presence of her mother, why Humphree retired from piracy (supposedly it’s “long and complicated” and involves Cosmoe), or even why Cosmoe is riding around on a flying food truck. But in all honesty, it doesn’t matter, because just like a themed roller coaster, it is the ride you are there to enjoy, and readers will enjoy this fast paced, space odyssey which I predict will continue in future installments.

Cleopatra in Space

Today, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got two reviews on the first two books in the Cleopatra in Space series. Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. The review of the second book (The Thief and the Sword) meets this criteria. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Cleopatra in Space 1Title: Target Practice
Series: Cleopatra in Space #1
Author/Illustrator: Mike Maihack
ISBN: 9780545528429
Pages: 172 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2014.

“It was during this recovery that an ancient scroll detailing the arrival of a hero was uncovered. A hero who would appear at this exact time and place to defeat the Xerx and restore peace and order to the galaxy.”
“You are that hero in the scroll, Cleopatra” (51)

Cleopatra (yes, the queen from the history books) is teleported from her time into a very different future. Expected to save the world from the Xerx and their leader, Xaius Octavian, Cleopatra is flummoxed by the need to attend classes, where she excels at combat but is exasperated by everything else. Guided by Khensu, the ancestor of her long-dead pet cat and monitored by a council of cats and alien teachers, Cleopatra isn’t sure what to think of this new world. When her first assignment lands her in hot water, Khensu realizes the council might not have his protégé’s best interests in mind.

Although she may be old as a mummy, Cleopatra is anything but a relic from the past. Preferring to be called Cleo, using modern day slang such as “Yup” and “Jeez” even before she time travels, and adapting seemingly instantaneously to things like paper books. It’s all done very tongue and cheek, with her Egyptian friend Goz calling out her smack talking “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a pyramid” with an equally sarcastic “That doesn’t even make sense.” before getting cut off (29-30). The fast and furious action-packed opening scene begins with her assignment mission before going back in time and then forward again all within the first 50 pages. Maihack smartly skips over several months of classwork so we can then get some additional action sequences with her assignment, finishing up at the end of the first semester. Hopefully all the subsequent volumes don’t progress as quickly.

Cleopatra in Space 2Title: The Thief and the Sword
Series: Cleopatra in Space #2
Author/Illustrator: Mike Maihack
ISBN: 9780545528443
Pages: 190 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2015.

”Xaius Octavian, I presume? I hear you’re looking for a thief.” (19-20)

A nearly wordless fifteen page opening introduces a cocky but highly capable African-American thief hired to steal an artifact being temporarily stored in military headquarters. Next door, Yasiro Academy is having their winter dance for military cadets, including the time-teleported Cleopatra, who hinders but doesn’t catch the thief in a madcap chase scene through the school and city. Meanwhile Cleo’s friend Brian has discovered there may be a way to send savior Cleo back to her own time, whether she wants to or not. Their search begins, but advisor Khensu isn’t telling them everything. The cityscapes are gorgeous, reminiscent of Gotham and Giza, and the action sequences demand your attention. Readers should appreciate the little details, like Cleo taking off her shoes before beginning the chase. The characters are beginning to evolve, with back stories that unavoidably slow the plot. I look forward to upcoming revelations, especially about the thief.

Interstellar Cinderella

Interstellar CinderellaTitle: Interstellar Cinderella
Author: Deborah Underwood
Illustrator: Meg Hunt
ISBN: 9781452125329
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Chronicle Books, c2015.

Once upon a planetoid,
amid her tools and sprockets,
a girl named Cinderella dreamed
of fixing fancy rockets. (unpaged)

This space themed spin on the Cinderella tale has all the components of the classic, including the step-family, the helpful mouse, and a fairy godmother (although in robotic form). Promoting STEM based feminism and diversity without a single overt mention of racism, feminism, or prejudices, everyone following the “We Need Diverse Books” publicity should take note: this is how it should be done. In perhaps a subtle nod to the importance of education, pink-haired, freckled, and fresh-faced Cinderella spends her evenings studying ship repair. She would be self-sufficient, except her step-family steals the tools, forcing her to rely on the help of a fairy godrobot. The robot doesn’t fix the ship for her though, but instead produces the tools Cinderella needs to do the job herself. Her obscured identity is explained by a helmeted spacesuit and goggles, and she doesn’t accept a marriage proposal from the dark-skinned prince but instead negotiates a job offer to become his chief mechanic.

The primarily humanoid looking bodies of the alien species are probably the only stereotypical thing about the story, but there is some variety in the number of limbs, heads, and eyes, with some resembling species of Earth animals. I also would have fixed the Prince’s hair, which streams behind him in a cross between a mohawk and a mullet, but that is a very minor personal quibble, especially considering Cinderella’s beautifully and realistically portrayed practical bun, which I love with the fly-away wisps. The sing-song verse reads well (just make sure “family’s” three syllables, not two when reading aloud), and Cinderella shines like the star she is in every scene. Where can I get my own robotic mouse? Better yet, when can we get a sequel?

Rocket Girl

Rocket GirlTitle: Rocket Girl Volume One: Times Squared
Author: Brandon Montclare
Illustrator: Amy Reeder
ISBN: 9781632150554
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Image Comics, Inc., c2014.

In 1986 a bunch of scientists at Quintum Mechanics made history. Their discovery would change everything, forever. But they didn’t know what they were doing. It was never meant to be. So someone had to go back in time to stop it. I volunteered.

Detective Dayoung Johansson is a fifteen-year-old NYPD Detective in 2013, and expects people to respond to her position and experience with the force. Except she’s no longer in 2013 but has been sent back to 1986 to prevent a corporation from seizing control. But as the company responsible for the technology that enables time travel in the first place, Dayoung may just be playing into their plan. Is she really saving the past, or creating the future?

This story almost completely ignores the time travel element, except for a few obligatory references, like “Your past is my future” and a run in between past and future selves for two secondary characters. The detailed illustrations shine, with dirt on Dayoung’s uniform and graffiti on the brick walls, although the broken glass of the police station window should have fallen out the window if it was broken from the inside. It’s the fight sequences that are all flash, bang, whizz, described in the extra materials in the back of the book as “Marvel Style”. I wish there had been more movement in these sequences, instead of poses and posturing more then actual propulsion. NPR agrees with me (since when did NPR review graphic novels?!), stating “The one area where Reeder’s got real problems, oddly enough, is in capturing motion. That’s quite a weakness when your protagonist spends most of her time airborne. Reeder does OK with the effortless aspects of flight — gliding, spinning, tumbling. When DaYoung soars, so does the book. But when she hauls off and hits somebody, we hit the ground.” It’s an interesting premise and I’d be willing to follow it for a little while longer, but the characters and plot need more development before I’ll fully understand exactly how the past/future is impacting the future/present… see why I’m confused!

The Originals

OriginalsTitle: The Originals
Author: Cat Patrick
ISBN: 9780316219433
Pages: 296 pages
Publisher/Date: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. c2013.

“But if today is any indication, our current setup isn’t working,” she continues. “We’re not even three weeks in and already it’s clear that to remain on this path could draw attention to us, and therefore threaten everything. Because of this,” Mom says, shifting like she’s bracing for a triple teen outburst, “I am switching junior year assignments.”
I feel myself stiffen; Ella sucks in her breath.
“Are you serious?” Betsey asks. Mom nods.
“Ella will take the first half,” she says authoritatively, but not meeting Ella’s eyes, probably because she knows how disappointed Ella’s going to be to miss out on cheer practice. “Lizzie will take second half. Betsey, you’ll stay with evenings.” (14)

Lizzie, Ella, and Betsey Best are identical, but they are not triplets. Instead, they are clones, in hiding with their scientist mother from companies and the government who would want to prove their existence and study them. Taking turns going to school and sharing one life as Elizabeth Best, they have never really complained about their situation due to the knowledge that they could be found out and taken away at any moment. But as senior year progresses, the three girls start to question who they really are and what sort of life they are really living. Lizzie starts to fall for Sean Kelly, who opens her eyes to possibilities that she knows she can never fully partake in with their current agreement. Looking for answers and their independence, Lizzie and her “sisters” realize that their mother might not have been as truthful as they originally thought, and the lies might spell trouble for their seemingly happy family.

It says in the back jacket author’s biography that author Cat Patrick is the mother of twin daughters, very likely serving as inspiration for this book. Rather than narrating the story solely from Lizzie’s perspective, I wish the girls had taken turns narrating so that all three would have received the same amount of focus and distinction from one another. Lizzie’s voice was well-developed, but her sisters were unfortunately interchangeable throughout the story. Poor Betsey seemed to have very few opinions of her own, and I feel sorry that she got the short end of the stick being locked in the house all day long and then working in the evenings for spending money that all three girls used.

The story requires some suspension of belief that the three “sisters” willingly went along with this plan for so many years without complaint, interest in friendship or relationships, or any confusion. I liked the thought that was put into having one girl do a third of the day, as opposed to each girl doing every third day, but there are still missing links in the chain. It sounds like they’ve been living there for a while, and no one has seemingly caught on or made attempts at friendship until now. The changing of identities back and forth is originally portrayed as a “you’ve got to be joking” unbelievable suggestion, but then it’s later revealed that they’ve done this before in the instances of illness or injury. I would think physical activities like the cheerleading team would be out of the question, number one due to unavoidable differences in physical abilities and number two due to the possibility of an injury taking place in front of someone else and then the other two having to fake it.

The romance aspect develops slowly, but like Lizzie’s sisters Sean is never really fully developed and seems more a contrived impetus for Lizzie’s sudden rebellion as opposed to his own person. Readers are never fully enlightened as to why Sean is able to recognize that there is a difference between Lizzie and Ella and what sparks his interest in her. And the betrayal at the end involving someone Lizzie knows seems equally contrived and unexplainable.

I’m realizing as I wrap up this review that I’ve been talking about all the implausible plot points that stretch credulity and credibility. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured the book in only a few hours and readers might find themselves entertained as much as I was regardless of the various plot holes. As summer winds down, it might make a nice thing to stash in your beach bag for one last jaunt to soak up some sun, although the weather here has taken a decided and marked turn towards fall temperatures, so maybe you’ll instead be curling up in front of a fire. Lizzie at least is likeable, and you won’t regret spending the time to get to know her and her unique situation or her struggles to be seen as her own person.

%d bloggers like this: