Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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Dr. Dan's Elixir
Potent Magic for Young Minds
    by Dan Shade
April 2007

Celandine by Steve Augarde
David Ficking Books, Copyright © 2006
Hardcover, 487 Pages, $16.95
Age Group: 10 up

Steve Augarde still has the magic he used so deftly in The Various and wields with so much power in Celandine. Nevertheless, after reading Celantine I was somewhat bewildered as Celandine appeared to be a prequel to The Various rather than the more common sequel. This situation made me wonder what the third installment could possibly be. Knowing what is said about curiosity and the cat, never fearing I emailed Steve Augarde. I can say with sure knowledge that Steve Augarde is as kind and gracious a person as he is a great author. According to Mr. Augarde, "Celandine is indeed a prequel to The Various, being set during the First World War. The stories of Celandine and Midge are interconnected, and in the final book, Winter Wood, the threads all draw together towards what I hope is a satisfying conclusion." At this writing I do not know when to expect Winter Wood.

Celandine takes place in three places: on the family farm, at the boarding school where Celandine is sent after her refusal to cooperate with her governess, and with the little people on the top of Howard's Hill. The hill is like an island surrounded by fields. It is a very tall hill and the top is overgrown with an impassible bramble. On the other side lies the world and/or domain of The Various or little people. They have survived there for ages in peace and safe from the Gorji. On the other hand, no one has ever had reason to explore past the bramble, as there's enough to do on a farm to fill one's day. And then there is the coarse, cutting bramble filled with briar. Enough to stop any child or adult from going forward.

Now, who are the Gorji? Why, they are you and I. The little people fear the Gorji and there seems to be a history of trouble. No details are offered about these conflicts and one gets the idea that the facts have long been forgotten and all that is left is fear. Celandine is the first Gorji contact the little people have had in all this long time. I expect we will learn more about Gorji conflicts in the final installment.

Celandine discovers the little people, or they discover her, during the afternoon of a family picnic. Celandine and her brother Freddie have been rolling down Howard's Hill. At the end of one roll Celandine thumps her head on a stone and gets a little sick. In order to move her out of the sun, Freddie borrows a baby stroller, puts Celandine in it, and rolls her up the hill under the only tree outside of the Bramble. While resting there in the shade of the tree, she spies two round eyes peering down at her. At first she thinks it some small animal but no, this strange being seems to be more interested in the piece of cake Freddie has given her. And so the first meeting of Celandine and the various people takes place. It's Fin who makes this first contact. He is a hunter and forager. The cake spoils him though and Celandine will eventually bribe her way through the bramble with it. Yes, there is a hidden pathway big enough for a Gorji.

Also, the little people, as I call them, are not those typified in most fantasy novels. Steve Augarde has created several new races of little people that are unique in every way. I could enumerate them here but then what would be the purpose in reading the book.

Celandine's world goes downhill quickly after the picnic on Howard's Hill. She lashes out at a tutor; is sent to a private school for girls where she is bullied, accused of being a witch, and accused of being German when the first world war breaks out; she and her friends are brutally tortured at school and her brother is killed in the war. After trying to leave school and consequently being captured and punished several times, Celandine finally makes a successful dash for home. Yet, she feels she cannot go home and face the loss of Freddie. More specifically, she feels there is nowhere in the world for her to be safe. So, she decides to hide with the various little people.

This return to the little people turns out to be the riveting part of the book. Her adventures with the various people are so well conceived, it makes make belief of The Various seem to be a relief. Mr. Augarde breaths such life into them that it makes me want to peek out my backdoor and go in search of them. However, things are not what Celandine expects and she must struggle to maintain the little peoples' trust. Another tribe of little people has joined those who live at the top of Howard's Hill and they do not trust the Gorji. A nice plot twist in the end brings the tensions to a close and gives the reader resolution as well as anticipation for the final volume.

I can honestly recommend this book with the highest of marks. Celandine and its predecessor have taken two spots in my top ten favorite fantasy books. No other single author holds such a place in my top ten lists. Therefore, I recommend this book to all from 12 and up with no ceiling. They're so good that I want hardcover copies to keep and pass down to my children. Maybe by the time I die my children will have discovered that the old man was right - reading science fiction and fantasy is greatest of all past times.

Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening by Michael Carroll
Philomel Books (Penguin), Copyright © 2006
First American Edition Published in 2007
Hardcover, 264 pages, $16.99
Age Group: 9-12 (9-15)*

Ten years ago all of the superheroes disappeared and no one knows what happened to them. Were they wiped out in a great battle against evil or did they just disappear? The one consolation is that the bad guys went with the good. So, how does the world stand without any superheroes? Pretty fine according to this book. I fully expected that in ten years, without the intervention of superheroes, the world would be in shambles. Contrary to that, everything seems fine. So, who needs superheroes? All kidding aside, it's a good premise and has great potential to be a good series.

When all of the superheroes lost their powers, many of them went back to their secret identities and tried to live out a normal life. Some went into hiding and others to prison. Among those who returned to their families, they often speculated about the possible inheritance of super powers. The answer appears to be yes, at least in the case of Colin and Danny.

Colin and Danny, two high school students, find themselves in the center of a huge plot to make it impossible that there should ever be superheroes again. Colin and Danny are needed to test the machine that has been build to emit the particles that strip superheroes of their power or gift. Colin has super hearing and super strength. Danny can move (walk, run) faster than the speed of light. Einstein would not be happy with that so let's just say the can move so fast no one knows or notices that he has moved. In all that rushing around he can disarm an individual or a number of other useful things such as leap out in traffic to save a child.

Superpowers develop at adolescence and are unreliable at best until fully developed. So, Colin and Danny have a great deal of trouble saving each other from being human guinea pigs for the power-sucking machine. However, the machine has not been perfected; it's designer died prematurely, and when it's fired up a minimum of 60,000 people will die of stroke while a few children of superheroes lose their budding powers. Many characters in the book think this too high a price to "save" the world from more superheroes.

There are a few problems with the story. It's hard to keep all of the superheroes names straight. You know, which superhero uses Bob Smith as his alias? Also, there are times when it is difficult to tell the good guys from the bad guys. The "bad" guys do have a plan to keep the world free of superheroes. That could be beneficial, as crime would stay on the human level as opposed to the super level. There are times in the book when the rationalizations for this goal seem better than a chaotic would full of numberless superheroes.

One final philosophical point. Superheroes have to be dishonest to hide their secret identity. Even Superman, who says he never lies, has to practice deception to keep the world from knowing that Clark Kent is Superman. The same is true for every superhero in Quantum Prophecy. They want to remain anonymous and that cannot be accomplished with out deception. So, my question is, how can they be heroes, super or not, if they lie to hide themselves from us? In my mind it's time for superheroes to come out of the closet and face who they are. Either way it's not safe for them to live among us. Some monster could learn that Clark Kent was Superman and attack his condo while Lois Lane is there -- not only putting her life at risk but the neighbors as well. So it's clear that Superheroes need a neighborhood of their own. Whatever they do they cannot afford to tarnish their names with an end justifies the means way of thinking!

All things being equal, this was an entertaining and satisfying read. Although the publisher gave the book a juvenile rating (9-12), I enjoyed it at my old age so I think high school students would enjoy it as well. It reads somewhat like a graphic novel and this is a plus making the book a draw for older readers. Character development is a little shallow, but I didn't let that stop me from reading the book. So, if you are looking for a fun, relaxing read then this is the book for you.

Surviving Antarctica: Reality TV 2083 by Andrea White
HarperCollins Publishers, Copyright © 2006
Paperback, 432 pages, $6.99
Age Group: 12 up

America has gone gaga with TV and the nation is little more than a bunch of couch potatoes. TV is used to calm the savages and quite the discontented. Programming has become so powerful that all wars have ended and the government is less powerful, here in the United States. The Department of Education (DOE) has also taken over education offering all primary education on the television. DOE has become so powerful it is about to collapse upon itself.

In this nation run by the DOE, an education including high school and beyond is not available to all children. Rather, each child must face a coin toss at the end of middle school. Heads you get to go to high school and college. Tails you get nothing -- not even a job in most cases. But this is all right with the people because they no longer have time to worry about such trivial matters. All America's time is spent watching TV. Who cares about education when there is another reality based television show from the DOE.

Led by Polly Pritchard, otherwise know as Hot Sauce for her proclivity towards the color red, the DOE is going to sponsor a new reality TV show. This time based on Robert Scott's failed expedition to the South Pole in the early 20th century. The television show is meant to mimic the expedition in every aspect except the players will be teenage children. Three boys and two girls. Robert, Billy, Andrew, Polly and Grace. Each child has a special gift that was a factor in their being chosen. For instance, Polly has a nearly photographic memory. All the reading she does on the Scott's expedition is very handy to the children when they begin their own journey.

For their participation children are awarded $10,000. However, the child voted most valuable player by the TV audiences receives another $100,000. That's enough to put a child through high school and college. One can see how motivational such a price tag would be to children living in a society where the DOE offers public education over the TV. One of the children lies about his "gift" just for the chance at the education money. Just for the chance to be in the same call with a real teacher and other students. A high school and college education is the only path to financial security in this society.

And so our young adults begin their quest with no idea how devoid of scruples Polly Pritchard is. Nor are they aware that she has programmed disasters to occur just like on the original Scott expectation. For example, the tractor-like snow sleds fail half way to the first safe house full of supplies. Nor are they adequately prepared for frostbite, starvation, and just plain fear for their lives. Each storehouse is supplied with food and other survival needs. It is fifty miles to the first safe house and then twenty-five between the last three. Terrible distances in sub zero weather including snowstorms and blizzards.

They are also unaware of important factors. One, each of them has had a tiny video camera embedded in their left eye. And, two, through the audio feed on the implanted video cameras, the nightshift often intervenes on behalf of contestants. For example, they help Andrew to vote against leaving the dogs behind. Andrew hears a small voice and is told he is Birdie Bowers, actually Andrew's great-great-great-uncle. Keeping the dog sled, even though they are slower than the tractor sleds, turns out to have been a major factor in the team's survival. As the tractors break down, thanks to Polly, the dogs carry more and more of the load.

This was a good read wherein I truly came to care about the five young adults who were putting their life on the edge in hope of earning a better life. I have my favorites, of course, but the success of all was important to me. The author has put together a pretty good adventure story with all the elements necessary to keep you on the edge of your chair (or bed, wherever you do your reading). I highly recommend this book to young adults and up.

Post script: Well over half the books I've read for this column in the last year have been debut novels. Only half of them have made it to the column because they were so poorly conceived and written that I could not bear to read them. This is not one of those. I truly enjoyed Antarctic Survival and hope to see more from Andrea White.

* My age group estimate

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