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 2008

The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters by James Dashner
Shadow Mountain, Copyright © 2008
417 Pages, $17.95 Hardcover
Age Group: 10 up
(Out of five, I really liked it!)

Based on the theory of quantum physics, comes a clever book about a young boy recruited to help in a battle to keep the parallel universes from collapsing in on each other. This would lead to the destruction of all life, most importantly our own.

Atticus Higginbottom, nicknamed Tick, is the hero in our story. I missed where the author indicates age, but from the story I would guess Tick to be a freshman in high school while events are unfolding around him. He is tormented a great deal at school by older children: football team members and what not.

Tick has the coolest father of all time. Or, as my wife would put it, Tick wasn't lacking for friends on his educational level. Tick and his dad enjoyed all the things fathers and sons have traditionally, but beyond that they shared science fiction. Every Friday night Tick's dad would rent a science fiction movie and they would watch it together. This was very important to Tick and the story. Tick's great adventure would not have been possible without his father's support and trust.

Tick is notified about his selection for this quest by way of a letter from Africa. In the letter he is told he may accept the offer or not. If not, all he must do is burn the letter in the fire. Tick comes close to burning his letter but then decides that he cannot stand by and watch the universe end. He may be a nerdy kid whom the bullies at school force to stand in his own locker, but he's smart too. He is confident he can contribute to the success of this mission.

The letters begin to come from all over the world. Each contains a cryptic word puzzle very difficult to solve. That is until one finds the answer and says, "Geeze, it was right in front of me." Word puzzles that are so difficult because the answer is right in front of your face.

Tick soon finds two other initiates on the Internet. They begin to correspond helping each other solve the puzzles by passing clues back and forth. These three become essential allies in the battle to save the universes. Sofia is in Italy and Paul lives in Iowa.

Soon the day comes that Tick and his pals solve the final quiz. Upon doing so they find themselves "winked" to a secret headquarters where they meet M.G., the initials each of the quiz letters were signed with. M.G. simply stands for Master George. Not unlike Obi-Kenobi, Master George is the head trainer of the Realisists. He explains that a thirteenth reality has been discovered wherein magic really works. This is a most exciting prospect except Mistress Jane, the epitome of evil, wants to destroy all the realities but the thirteenth where she can rule forever.

There's not much more to say about Mistress Jane except that she loves the color pink. Everything she has is pink except for her hair, of which she has none. The author, James Dashner, has done what he needs to with Mistress Jane. I believe she will prove to be a more than adequate foe.

The rest of the book is the grand adventure to retrieve the Barrier Wand that harnesses the power of the universe and makes it possible to "Wink" from one place to another. Although this part of the book worked for me, somehow it was not as exciting as the first half wherein the clues must be solved. Nevertheless, I recommend this book to young and old. It was a very pleasant adventure in which to take part.

House of Stairs by William Sleator
Penguin, Copyright © 1974
166 Pages, $5.99 Paperback
Age Group: 12 up
(Out of five, I really liked it!)

Based on B. F. Skinner's theory of Behavior Modification comes a neat story by William Sleator. He has a proven track record with me. The only book he's written that I didn't care for was Hell Phone. Although an early work in the career of Sleator, his remarkable ability to base young adult novels on real science is evident here in full bloom.

Five sixteen-year-old orphans are abducted and find themselves in this strange building that is filled with stairways and landings. Lola, Peter, Blossom, Oliver and Abigail find each other in a world they can't understand. The building they are in is so big they cannot see the top or bottom or the walls. All that is visible are the numerous stairways and landings that go in every direction. Through exploration they find each other and try to survive until help comes. However, there are never any indications that help is on the way.

It isn't long until Lola finds Blossom. Blossom has parked herself near the only food machine in the building. The machine is able to produce delectable items for eating but in such a random pattern no one can figure out how to get food on a reliable basis. For example, when Lola finds Blossom, Blossom is able to obtain food by simply kneeling in front of the machine and sticking out her tongue. Sounds silly but that's how the machine is working at this particular point in the story. Later the machine will require the children to dance, with variations coming frequently before it begins to require them to hurt themselves.

Blossom sticks out her tongue and she and Lola eat until they are full. One portion of food (its description made me think of a corndog) per ugly face made by Blossom and the amount seems limited at first. Pretty sweet deal and the foods are described as being more delicious than any food they've ever eaten. This presents strong motivation to stay close to the machine. Wander too far away and it's easy to get lost.

Lola is a different girl altogether. She is a fighter, a stubborn girl and used to getting her own way -- one way or another. She is the total opposite of Blossom who has been pampered most of her life to the point where she is obese. Lola never knew her parents, but Blossom lived with hers in a house until they were killed in an accident. The common people don't live in houses. Next we meet Peter, a shy and timid boy who escapes the pain of being an orphan by slipping into a dreamlike daze where he is loved. Abigail is an attractive young woman but very shy due to her low self esteem. Finally Peter finds the group. He seems like an all-around young man who is on the ball and has life in the palm of his hand. He seems friendly and outgoing. The five of them make odd fellows to be trapped together and it takes most of the book before they begin to learn to work together against the machine.

Once the five young adults are together, the food machine stops feeding as it has in the past. Everyone tries Blossom's tongue trick but to no avail. Soon the machine will take over their lives as they become ever more starved for food. First it will tease them, then it will make them dance and finally it will turn them against each other in terrible and frightening ways.

How these children combat the machine is worth reading. The ending has a moral to which we should pay more attention. This was an interesting and fun book to read. As I mentioned before, it does not have the Sleator zing like Singularity or The Last Universe but I nevertheless recommend it with three out of five stars. I liked it.

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