Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman

I am aware that I tend to criticize books for having "literary claptrap" endings or being "literary" in having unlikeable characters and only vaguely comprehensible plots, etc. However, I don't intend to come across as disliking "literature." I dislike a lot of it for the reasons stated, but a really brilliant literary work is, well, really brilliant. This is one of those really brilliant books.

Shawn McDaniel is 14. He wants a girlfriend. He likes rock'n'roll. He loves his family. He remembers everything he's ever heard since the age of three, and he might be kind of a genius. He has severe cerebral palsy and is completely incapable of communicating his thoughts to anyone, even though he has plenty of thoughts. And he thinks his father is planning to kill him.

I read the whole thing in one sitting, without even looking up. Usually I check the time ever chapter, get up to get coffee, put the book down to watch TV or write, even just stare at the wall for a while thinking about something else, but not this time. (Luckily the book is only 115 pages long, if it had been any longer I might've starved to death!)

I don't say this often, but this is a perfect book. The reason it's so short is that the plot I just described is the plot, there's no nonsense with subplots or insignificant characters or even insignificant thoughts. The pace is perfectly balanced to convey exactly the right emotions and not distract you with anything else. And yet at the same time the ideas are so rich that I could probably read the book several times in succession and not get bored. Both sides of the issue (euthanasia) are rigorously explored, and then you're left to let it sink in.

The part that fascinated me the most was Shawn's personality. He can't DO anything, he's sheerly receptive, and yet he's a fully developed character. It's an example any writer should look at, because it really shows how actions should conform to personality and not the other way around. There's a thingness, a separateness, about a person that doesn't have anything to do with who they are on the outside, and it's different for every person. There wasn't a single character in the book that didn't seem like a real person, and Shawn is unique, with an arresting, memorable personality despite the fact that he can't affect his surroundings in any way.

So to sum up: Wow. Read this. I'm going to buy it for my personal collection and I foresee I will be reading it more than twice. There's a companion novel called Cruise Control, the same story from a different POV, which I also have to read or I will explode, and then I'll start on Trueman's other books.

Buy Stuck in Neutral

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Adventures of Blue Avenger by Norma Howe

This picture is a little small, but I love this cover. It's dynamic, interesting, and it perfectly illustrates the book's idea. It's a little 90s, but I like it. It has that "I want to be a superhero" attitude that I know so well.

Anyway, the book is indeed about a superhero, of a sort. The titular Blue Avenger starts out as 16-year-old David Schumacher, the average (but smart) student whose hobby is drawing a superhero called the Blue Avenger. He considers himself to be Blue Avenger, and has the blue-fishing-vest and towel-turban ensemble to prove it. (I can't remember whether he based the character on himself, or if they just grew together over time, but it doesn't really matter.) On his 16th birthday, he changes his name and takes on the persona of Blue Avenger in order to right the wrongs of the world.

I really liked it, but it's kind of odd, and not in an objective way. There was just something about it I couldn't put my finger on. It's kind of a YA story written in kids' prose... The characters say intense 16-year-old things, but in an almost simplistic 11-year-old way. Blue is a great character, very recognizable and easy to connect with but a little offbeat and quirky, teetering perfectly between adult and child, and he doesn't see the world the same way anybody else does. His friend Omaha is a little more of a stereotype, the mostly-mean tomboy with the vulnerable side that everybody likes for some reason even though she's mostly mean. (Okay, in this case I don't remember everybody liking her, mostly just Blue, and he has his own personal mental processes.)

The main theme of the book is the major philosophical debate of free will vs. fate, much more heady stuff than I expected, which is great. In fact, I don't think it went far enough. It only really presents the predestination argument, which is a valid argument, but it's incomplete without the equally valid choice argument. No real resolution is offered either, I personally prefer a conclusion even if I don't agree with it, but for a book for kids that's not necessarily appropriate so I understand leaving it out. Also note the painfully apparent and oversimplified gun control message, which was surprising considering the complexity of the other theme.

This is one of those wacky books I always loved as a kid, full of bizarre facts and random events. It's a quick, fun book, and I'm really glad I read it. I recommend Suck It Up(review), Grooves, and Winchell Mink.

Buy The Adventures of Blue Avenger (Even though it has a horrible blob thing on the cover now. What is that?)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

To Terra by Keiko Takemiya

To Terra is a three-volume sci-fi manga that apparently was written several decades ago (70s?) and was just released in English. (To accompany an anime, I think.) The idea is that in a fully computer-dependent society, and by that I mean on ONE particular computer, a group of psi-powered mutants (the Mu) have been exiled from society and for some reason think that going back to Terra will solve all their problems. It kind of reminded be of Battlestar Galactica. (The old one... can't stand the new one.)

I liked this, but it's totally incomprehensible. I wrote in my book journal that it was "like a Monty Python sketch done at half speed by lobotomy patients," and while that might be a little excessive, that was pretty much the impression I got. All the characters are exactly the same except for the goals we're told they have, and those same informed goals are the only reason for the plot. The art, which is absolutely gorgeous on big sweeping starscapes and spaceships, is indecipherable in small panels.

It takes forever for anything significant to happen, and when it does there seems to be no reason for it. Since none of the characters have any reasons for their beliefs, their actions just come across as juvenile and ill-informed. Every so often there's a time-out to try and explain some of the science involved, but that just makes it worse. I understand what the story is doing emotionally, but I have no idea what's ACTUALLY going on or with what characters.

But, despite all that, I did like it. The atmosphere is absolutely mesmerizing, and if you just sort of relax and zone out while you read it becomes dreamscape-y rather than just confusing. It's an interesting look at some older sci-fi, where some common ideas are used as new and thrown together in unorthodox ways. It's sci-fi, but Takemiya tends to use fantasy in the workings of it. I certainly didn't get bored with it, as hard as I was working to follow the story.

There's this sudden flurry of action and energy and awesomeness at the end that makes the whole saga worth the trouble... And then an epilogue that plunged me back into misty confusion. So, if you don't really get what happened, neither do I. I also don't understand why a central male character was persistently drawn as a girl, but that's beside the point.

This is another one of those books that I'm not sure whether to recommend or not. If it sounds interesting then go ahead, knock yourself out, it's only three volumes. I don't have any recommendations at this point, but I'll be reviewing some similar things in the future.

Buy To Terra... (v. 1)