Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

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

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, Copyright © 2005
Paperback, 384 pages
Age Group: 15 up

Wow, I enjoyed Pretties more than I did Uglies! It is a more detailed vision of the dystopia wherein Tally Youngblood lives.

Tally has a new boy friend. His name is Zane and he's a pretty hip guy. Very smart and very into getting out of the pretty-minded state that unknowingly afflicts pretties. Tally and Zane are a perfect match. Where one ends the other begins. In the early part of this volume, Tally and Zane are looking for ways to be bubbly. Bubbly is better then being pretty-minded. It's the kind of awareness that you and I enjoy. They discover that extreme experiences, such as heights or cold or fright, can raise them above pretty-mindedness. The bubbly feeling, the new awareness that it brings, is an addiction stronger than any drug. They are determined to become bubbly all the time. When other members of their clique find out what's going on, they find even more extreme ways to reach bubbliness such as cutting themselves. Westerfeld uses the pain formula for bubbliness only in one example and then moves on, but he does remind us of it once in a while as needed. It is the extreme example of how much some are willing to give to burst thought the bonds of pretty-headedness and become bubbly.

One day, in the search for more bubbliness, Tally and Zane climb one of the tall radio towers on top of a pretty dorm. At the top of this tower they find two pills and a letter. Upon descent they read the note and discover that Tally wrote it to herself when she was an Uglie and that the pills are a cure for pretty-mindedness. It appears that when you have your operation to make you a pretty, lesions are placed in your brain to short out higher forms of thought. Therefore, Pretties are very happy to live the satiated party life that is provided. Given talk about middle pretties and Crumblies, it appears that the pretty stage is the one that special circumstances want to control the most. That's not surprising, is it? Adults have always wanted to control the younger, more vibrant, highly intelligent, and more open to new ideas and experiments. Teenagers have always been the enemy.

Tally is afraid to take the pills and, assuming the pills are the same, Zane suggests they both take one of the pills. They do not know that the two pills are different. One pill contains nanites programmed to repair the brain lesions and the other pill is the cure for the cure. The second pill tells the nanites when to quit. Changes begin immediately and they seem to be able to remain bubbly more and more. However, there are side effects such as crippling headaches, etc.

Tally and Zane flee to the wilderness to find the new smokies and get some help with the side effects of the cure.

To top it all off, what would the novel be without another visit from the very special Dr. Cable. She comes bearing news and it's not very good. You will love this fast-paced, action-packed, compulsive sequel. Whereas in my opinion sequels usually mark the death of a story, this sequel is better than the first volume, Uglies.

Specials by Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse, Copyright © 2006
Hardcover, 384 pages
Age Group: 15 up

This is the rip-roaring, action packed, heart-wrenching finale to the Uglies trilogy. What started out in Uglies as a good story has ended as a spectacular story. There are twists within twists in the plot. The end will leave you with your mouth hanging open. And you'll join the chorus singing, "We want more!"

Tally has been transformed again. Now a special, she's a lean, mean fighting machine. Dr. Cable has provided a ceramic skeleton, enhanced hearing and sight, built in communication abilities, super strength and nano-technology to heal her wounds whenever she gets hurt. Tally and her friends have been also given the knowledge, skills and physiology to survive alone in the wilderness for any length of time. She has the cruel beauty for which specials are known. Teeth and fingernails turned into lethal weapons. Cat-like reflexes and body armor to protect and hide her from view. Tally is one slick, tough, chick.

Tally and Shay are friends again and belong to Dr. Cable's elite force of specials, the Crims. You may recognize who they are from Pretties. Having the freedom and latitude given by Dr. Cable, Tally and Shay seek to find the new smoke alone. So, they head out. On the way they cause a serious accident that damages their government's defense supplies. When they reach the new smoke, Tally discovers that Zane is still alive, barely. She is glad to see him again but her programming against the weak and sick make her gag and want to vomit. She takes off so as not to embarrass Zane (or kill him).

Seeing Zane again and remembering their love begins to change Tally from a special to a cured special (for lack of a better title) and she begins to question the role of a special. In the mean time Maddy's cure has been taking the cities by storm. Even Tally's clique, The Crims, have all be cured. The Crims try to force the cure on Tally but she fights them off in a fury of energy. Her program for self-preservation kicks in and she overwhelms them all. Not to worry. We suspect that Tally's personality will eventually cure her without the medicine as it did in Pretties.

The New Smoke is a surprise. It has been taken in by a neighboring city called Diego. Many in Diego have been cured and they have begun a new city government call the New System. Diego takes in all new runaways but enforces a new law regarding violations of morphology. Who could be more of a violation than Tally, and the city goes after her to surgically undo the changes wrought by Dr. Cable. It seems like Tally can't get a break. Every which way she turns somebody's after her.

Tally's desire to remain a special and her grief come together to build the conditions necessary for what Tally does as her final mission. Expect to be surprised and then be surprised again. Read this book - that is my recommendation. Start with Uglies if you can but this volume of the trilogy can stand on its own merits.

Elsewhere by Will Shetterly
Harcourt, Copyright © 1991
Hardcover, 248 pages
Age Group: 15 up

Elsewhere is a bookstore in Bordertown which is on the edge of the frontier where Faerie meets Human. Most aren't happy with Bordertown's presence but it does promote trade, which appears to be very profitable for all. Eighteen-year-old Ron goes to Bordertown looking for his older brother Tony who has disappeared. Since Tony was obsessed with Bordertown, Ron figures that's the best place to look for him and heads out to find him.

Bordertown is a mishmash of Elves, Humans, and Hafelves all at the varied levels of economic comfort and security that you would find in any major city today in America. Furthermore, descriptions of Bordertown remind me of Washington, DC where I grew up. The higher class or more wealthy Elves live high above the city in splendor. There are middle-class Elves who work every day for a living and Elves who scratch out a living down by the wharf and the Mad River. Humans don't seem to ascend as far up the economic food chain as do the Elves. Hafelves seem to be the most despicable of the three and usually found at the lower levels of society. Often Hafelves are not welcome in the crummiest of bars. Yet, everyone seems to need protection of some sort from association with a group or gang or from someone with powerful magic.

On the other hand, Bordertown is a place where any and all kinds of magic happens. One can be turned into a werewolf or set a simple charm to protect yourself or your property from harm. Elsewhere is a rich tapestry with many and various colors. No one is what he or she appears to be. A gang of Elves on motorcycle may look and sound as mean as any gang could be. Yet, we often learn they have compassion and are willing to help the weak. In fact, the characters in Shetterly's book are like onions. With every change of chapter it seems we learn new things about the characters. Some who appeared good are actually evil and vise versa. This peeling of the onion layers for so many characters made it hard for me to keep up with who was who. Sometimes names changed as well. Nevertheless, reading this book was one of the most rewarding reads I've ever experienced. It's like going to a three-ring circus but being allowed to mingle during the show. The colors and sounds seem to jump out of the page and as mentioned the characters are larger than life.

However, no novel would be complete without a protagonist and we've not said nearly enough of Ron. In the beginning Ron does not appear to have many sterling qualities. His major motivation for finding his brother appears to be an unnamable guilt. However, it is not long before Ron has endeared himself to many: Elves and Humans alike. He soon finds a wholesome mixed ethnic group, like Bordertown itself, to live with and lands a job in Elsewhere. Elsewhere is a new and mostly used bookstore. The huge kind where you can easily become lost while the hours tick away.

Ron is not only a big help in the bookstore but manages to find ways of helping those around him. Most especially Florida, a young victim of abuse who does not speak and carries a Bowie knife. Florida is a perfect example of the richness in Shetterly's characters. We meet her early in the book and the first impression is that she is the silent, strong type because she never speaks and carries that Bowie knife. It's not until much later that we learn that she has not spoken since her abuse and the knife is for self-defense. Ron is instrumental in helping Florida open up, speak, and relate to others on a one-to-one basis.

But what about Ron's experience in Bordertown? I can't tell you if he ever finds Tony or not, but I can tell you that he falls from favor to the lowest level of the food chain in Bordertown, a Wharf Rat. Wharf Rats drink the polluted water from the Mad River. The Mad River water is addicting and produces a stupor state of consciousness including hallucinations and greater dependence. No one in his or her right mind drinks from the Mad River. Ron drank from the hand of a rat not knowing what it was.

While Ron is a Wharf Rat there are sudden plot twists and character changes that answer all the readers questions. Does Ron find Tony? Does Ron ever return to his own people? Ultimately, what kind of person has Ron turned out to be? Or in other words, in what ways has he grown and developed into a better being.

In closing, let me remind you that I highly recommend this book. Elsewhere deals with prejudice, random violence, interpersonal relationships, and coming-of-age. It is a rich experience that will keep you turning the pages for two reasons. One, to follow the story, of course. Two, for more description of this marvelous place called Boardertown and it's society. Read on but come home when you are finished.


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