Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
July 2006

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima
Hyperion Books for Children, Copyright © 2006
Age Group: 14 up

You are sixteen-year-old Jack Swift. Up until recently your life in Trinity, Ohio, has been pretty typical. You get good grades and have tried out for the soccer team. One-day tryouts runs later than usual. This simple event causes you to miss a dose of medication that you have been taking daily all your life. The next day you feel better than ever before and when Lobeck, the school bully and jerk tries to muscle you, just the movement of your hand blows him across the field. Your latent skills as a Wizard have begun to develop. As each day passes without medication you feel better and stronger.

I've read plenty of epic fantasies and an equal amount of contemporary fantasies. In this book Chima does a creative and successful job of injecting a full, epic fantasy into a contemporary story. The transitions in and out of the two sub-genres are smooth and easy. You hardly know that you left one for the other.

It's a total surprise to Jack, a normal American boy, that he must fight in an arena like a gladiator. It's even more of a surprise that when reading in that section of the book (last third), one never even thinks this is not a contemporary fantasy. The characters are larger than life, believable, loveable and stoic. I will think of Jack Swift for many years to come. The book's first third and last third sections are deftly constructed. The story seems to get bogged down in the middle third but then picks up considerably and rises above itself as you draw closer to the end.

I must disagree with the author on one statement. On page 388 of the hardcover edition Chima states, "That the tournament was almost over before it started." Upon reading this, my heart swiftly dropped into my stomach. As I read on, however, I found the story kept building as the gladiators fought round after round. Gladiators, known to each other and friends, have trouble deciding to whom they own their loyalty. To the Wizard who has been responsible for their training or to each other. Truly a chilling denouement.

I recommend this book to you without any reservation and in spite of the boggy middle third. It's worth plodding through for the exciting and surprising end. The hardcover jacket does not warn that this is the first in a series. Hopefully we have a singleton here that can stand on it's own. I wouldn't be surprised to see a sequel -- you know how publishers are. If one makes money, well then, two or five more will make more money. Even if there is no more story to tell.

The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Hyperion Books, Copyright © 2004
Age Group: 12 up

Bubbly, little, blue, puppy-dog-looking parasites hang around all over and wait for someone to be injured. Then they pounce on the victim and suck the life out of them. Inside their transparent bodies one can watch their tiny hearts glow and flicker as they suction more life from the victim. And I thought my neighbor's dog was a nuisance. These creatures make him look like the poster child for the S.P.C.A.

If you are an Artemis Fowl fan, The Supernaturalist will blow you away. A master writer created this book. There is no similarity to any other book I've read. The story's hot, the pace fast, and the characters believable. The surprise at the end of the story comes on hard and fast and takes the reader by surprise. I love this book. It's the kind you buy extra copies of to loan to friends and family.

Cosmo Hill was found abandoned on Cosmopolitan Hill (much like Chester Copperpot). Because he was orphaned he is, therefore, un-sponsored and was sent to the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys. It's a horrible place and I would have liked more information about its origins and if it has always been this way. What social uprising led to the establishment of the afore mentioned institution? Have the boys there always been thought of as expendable and therefore used as lab rats in the testing of perfumes, medicines, weapons to the efficacy of harsh chemical cleaning solutions? (For this test, boys are suspended in a vat of chemicals.) Nevertheless, Colfer gives us just enough to keep they story unburdened with a lot of extra baggage. Cosmo is a spotter. Some can see the parasites and some cannot. Cosmo can.

Other characters in the story include the Stefan, Mona and Ditto. Stefan is the most colorful character and the founder of the Supernaturalists, having been involved in an auto accident where he watched his mother die while the parasites sucked the life out of her, while he lay seriously injured in the street. Stefan would have died as well, but help got there in time to stop the parasites from taking Stefan's life force as well. Stefan leaves the police force and becomes a vigilante. His sole purpose is to eradicate the parasites. He gathers a team of other young people and starts the Supernaturalists and begins his career as a hunter killer. Stefan lives, breaths and dreams killing parasites. It is his single purpose for living.

The other supernaturalists are interesting. Stefan saves Mona from death in the middle of a gang clash. She is an excellent racecar mechanic and keeps their transportation, the Big Pig (a Hummer-like armored vehicle), running. She also goes on parasite hunts. Ditto is a Bartoli Baby. More correctly he is one of the many failures of Dr. Bartoli's efforts to use DNA splicing to create a more perfect human. The experiment backfired. Yes, the Bartoli babies are brilliant; but their growth ends at about age two and stays that way. Every Bartoli Baby has a gift. Ditto's is exceptional.

The setting of the story is far into our future yet somehow very familiar. Most people live on a ponderous satellite called, no less, Satellite City. The poor and unworthy live on what's left of the city most have fled for the satellites. I picture it looking like the set of Bladerunner. The buildings on earth are crumbling while everyone who can is going off world to live. The city is goverorned by gangs -- a survival of the fittest philosophy. Satellite City is in danger, which inadvertently threatens the survival of the Supernaturalists. And every night the Supernaturalists go on hunt to destroy parasites. They use their supernatural powers to locate the bugs. Stefan has been fighting the parasites for nearly five years, yet there seems to be more and more. The more they snuff out, the larger the population grows. Something is amiss here and it is not revealed until the end of the story. It's the kind of twist that makes you slap your forehead and say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

Having said all this, I must agree with my teen reader, "Ana Sanchez," that it would have been good to know more about Cosmo Hill at the Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys. Furthermore, I would like to have had a little history of the institute: how it began, what were the original motives and how did it become a concentration camp for orphaned boys?

You should read this book. It's a page-turner and a one of a kind. I recommend it to you and my teen reader recommends it to you. I've read it twice already.

The Last Universe by William Sleator
Amulet Books, Copyright © 2006
Age Group: 15 up

Finally, young adult science fiction based upon hard science has arrived (to me anyway). As I peruse the shelves at the several Borders within driving range of my home and as I cruise the pages of Amazon.com, there appears to be a problem. I have noted that almost all of the books in the "Young Adult Science Fiction Section" tend to be fantasy, contemporary fantasy and horror based (Buffy books are everywhere). I've been wondering where is the science fiction section?. I was very excited when I discovered William Sleator. I found myself holding a book that was not only good fiction but based on good science as well.

A secondary problem is that most of the young adult sci-fi and fantasy books have a girl as the protagonist. Now I understand why young adult men do not purchase or read as much as young adult women. Young men find themselves over in the adult sci-fi section where Ender's Game is available and where they can find many novels with young men as protagonists after extensive searching. So I was quite delighted to discover real science fiction with strong male and female characters within a great plot. *

The book is based on the theory of quantum mechanics, of which I understand little, as I'm not much when it comes to physics. However, even though quantum is hard, hard science the author does not let it overcome the story. He uses it in a delicate way and bases the story of two teenagers involved with multiple universes trying to cure one of them from a fatal disease. And there is a plot twist at the end that will break your heart. The story is well crafted and the characters have depth and you soon come to care for them. I feel as though I understand their frustrations.

Along the way the characters explain quantum mechanics to each other enough that the reader gets the gist of the quantum world and how it is affecting the lives of Gary (16) and Susan (14). Gary has a rare blood disease that is killing him. He has lost a lot of weight and is always week and tired. Susan takes him for walks in the huge Victorian garden attached to the house. Strangely enough, every trip to the garden makes Gary feel better. Trips to the hedge maze make him feel even better.

The maze seems to be the center of the "quantum" garden. Whenever they enter the maze each of them splits into a random number of selves. Like a blurred picture. When they enter they bifurcate into multiple versions of themselves (and universes). And when they leave the garden a little something has changed in their home and the garden. This is very frightful to Susan. However, she believes the most important is that Gary's getting stronger and stronger. The hardest to accept is that they are living in a different universe from that which existed when they entered the maze. Like Schrodinger's cat, we all exist in various ways in a multitude of universes. Does this blow your mind? What made this book readable for me was that Sleator stays within the general notions of quantum mechanics and refrains from really getting the science too complex that it bogs down the story.

I am so excited about this book that I went to Borders and ordered every book Sleator has written. I not only recommend you read this book; I think it necessary to do so.

*All of the first two paragraphs is based upon my own observations. No systematic data collection method or mathematical comparison has been performed.

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