Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Book Hungry
August 2007

Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
EOS, 2007, Hardcover, 239 pp, $16.99

Sweet merciful heavens. A collaborative novel that not only doesn't suck, but is actually actively good?

Few and far between, my friend.

Then again, Gaiman has a history of productive collaborations. The novel Good Omens he did with Terry Pratchett somehow managed to be smartass-funny and secretly tender and genuinely scary all at once, and of course the Sandman comic book series he did with a stellar lineup of artists has been required reading for any self-respecting fantasy fan for ages now. So maybe he's learned a thing or two over the years. (Frankly, I have no idea who this Reaves character is, but it's high praise to say that he's competing on a level playing field with Gaiman.)

In fact, I can't tell where one author stops and the other starts. I don't know how they divvied up the writing chores; maybe one did the plotting and the other the actual sentence-constructing, or maybe they took turns writing chapters, or whatever. It's not important how they did it; what matters is that the end result doesn't feel pieced-together in the slightest. It's not quite a Gaiman story, and I suspect it's not quite a Reaves story either; instead, it's a new voice emerging from the synthesis of two deeply talented dudes.

Above all, it doesn't bear the usual earmark of a collaboration: the feeling that neither author cared about the book because "it's not really mine" is nowhere to be found. What is found quite easily is an utterly endearing coming-of-age story:

Joey is on a school field trip when he gets lost. This isn't, however, particularly unusual; Joey has the worst sense of direction in the school. No, in the state. In fact, Joey might just be the most directionally-challenged person in the universe.

The thing is, ours isn't the only one out there.

A visitor from one of those alternate-dimension kind of places shows up. It's, uh, Joey himself -- an older version from a different timeline, but still the same guy underneath it all. It seems that while Joey might not be the best guy to ask for directions in our universe, he's actually deeply talented at navigating between universes. Which is, of course, how these things tend to go.

Bad guys show up, and there are many chase scenes and explosions, and the characters in Joey's team of do-gooders (all different versions of himself, male and female, young and old, from different universes) are fun and well-rounded. The thrills are solid, there are a few moments of real grief, the pace is whiplash fast and the dialogue is in some places almost Whedonesque. All in all, you'll have a blast if you keep in mind that the book is meant as pure entertainment, not medicine. It's not the next War and Peace; it's a really, really cool Saturday morning cartoon. It helps that Gaiman is perhaps one of the most amiable, friendly authors out there; that sort of genial good-naturedness is infused throughout the whole story.

Heck, you know what? There's really not much more to note beyond the fact that this is a breezy, terrifically fun book. I read it in one sitting, and recommend you do the same.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007, Hardcover, 759 pp, $34.99

Here are some of the reasons why this is obviously destined to be the most superfluous review I'll ever write:

1. If you're already a drooling fan of the Harry Potter books, you were probably prancing around in full wizard or witch garb at your local bookstore's midnight release party with all the rest of us. You don't need this review because you read the book in one sitting the day you got your greedy little hands on it. Heck -- if you're at all honest, you'll probably admit that you've read it a couple times by now.

2. If you're one of those puppy-kicking, curly-black-mustachio-twirling malcontents who yelled obscenities out the window of your car as you sped past the aforementioned gatherings of drooling fans, the only use you'll get out of this (gushingly positive) review will be a few delicious moments of feeling superior as you mock us poor saps for caring so much about make-believe people. (Everyone knows you're just jealous of our good time, so be a nice little rebel and go act jaded somewhere else, aight? Have fun tripping nuns, or whatever it is you find more entertaining than good books.)

3. If you're among those who are just kinda shoulder-shruggingly "meh" about the whole thing, yet another thumbs-up review will probably not do much to get you to pick up the book and take part in one of the biggest bursts of pop-culture community-forming of our generation. Not that there's anything wrong with that; I'm smugly certain that you'll see the light eventually and mend your grievous error of judgement.

So, if anything, this review is just a selfish (and -- you've been warned -- perhaps slightly spoiler-y) record of my own participation in all the hooplah. Let's compare war stories, shall we?

To start with, I don't think there is any way this book stands alone, so if you haven't read the others in the series, for heaven's sake get to it! The first couple of books were pretty easy to pick up individually and enjoy on their own, but as the story progressed, it became more and more necessary to know the full history of these characters and the rules governing the magical societies they lived in. In this last book, threads from all the previous books are picked up and come together in one of the most glorious climaxes I've ever read. (Though I won't waste your time with a plot synopsis, since everyone knows this final book is the bloodbath battle between Harry and his friends and Voldemort and his minions.)

Seriously, this book lives up to the hype and more, an almost impossible task. Throughout the entire story, the already-high tension of the previous installments is ratcheted up in sharp bursts, building to a gigantic battle that rages across a couple hundred pages and provides more tension than all the other books combined. This is a freakin' ending, folks, and Rowling does not skimp on the thrills. Practically every notable character from the series plays a part in the final war, and we see clues given in the very first book finally pay off.

But the battle scenes would be worthless if we didn't care about the characters in the midst of all the fighting. And even then, the most important relationship is one that is largely, in this final book, one-sided:

That's the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore. The core dilemma of the book is actually a sort of crisis of faith, whether or not all of Dumbledore's planning and schemes are good. Rowling is practically writing about man and God, and it's actually a far more complicated and mature question than many books dealing with theology (in any guise) even try for. The basic moral question is not "Do I believe that this purposer exists?" but rather "Is this purposer -- who I know exists -- trying to accomplish something good, something praiseworthy, something worth striving for?" After all, what is virtuous about having faith solely in the mere existence of a planner? The real question is whether or not that planner's purposes are good, and whether or not the methodology you're using to examine their influence in the world can yield an accurate evaluation of their behavior.

. . . oh, there are so many memorable scenes in the book that I'm hard pressed to even begin listing them. Dobby's sacrifice, Ron and Hermione's absolutely pitch-perfect declaration of love for each other, and on and on. Makes the New York Times look more than a little silly for shunting the Potter books into a separate category of best-seller.

Children's Literature? Give me a break. The Harry Potter books have transformed a generation of non-readers into a voracious army of people hungry for stories that fulfill their need for honor and noble sacrifice and friendship and love. We're better people for having experienced the whole saga, for having these people and their love for each other burned into our memories. The happy ending is bittersweet, because we want to keep living with these friends.

Thankfully, that's what rereading was invented for.


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