Memorial Day weekend reading; 2 slithy toads
I'd come across this book at the Padwolf Publishing table at I-Con in late March and was immediately intrigued. I recognized the author's name for his work in one of the Writers of the Future anthologies and from magazines like Small Wars Journal but had not been aware of his work in young adult literature. After several weeks of good intentions I was pleased to finally make this my train reading on the way back from Balticon.
It was a little bit awkward. This is the 6th book in the Wildsidhe Chroncles series, I had not read the first five of them, and I don't know if I can recommend starting in the middle. The basic premise is that three kids from Pennsylvania are captured by some spell and taken to the Wildsidhe. I did feel as if a smoother approach could have been taken to filling in a new reader on the series background. And there's a Gilligan's Island problem. As a kid it didn't bother me so much that the castaways never could find their way off the island, but as an adult you do. And here, it looks as if these kids are destined to have some of the same trouble finding their way back to Pennsylvania as the castaways to Hawaii. Also, I as an adult in publishing have come across many variations on the parallel world fantasy theme in children's fantasy novels, and I may not have the same patience for another variation as a less experienced writer. On balance, my rating for this book is a kind of blended rating, where it should maybe be a toad lower for an adult and a toad higher for the target YA audience.
In this particular book, the area of the Wildsidhe that is occupied by our heroes is attacked by dwarves. This leads to a series of trade negotiations with the dwarves, the title arising from the intense interest the dwarves have in obtaining cars. One can see why Cole was interested in this storyline. Do the kids fight the dwarves, or give them a car? Do we fight Iran over its nuclear program or try to entice it to the negotiating table? This carrot/stick, negotiate-or-not, appease or avert question is timeless. Witness the prominence given the appeasement word in the back-and-forth of our current presidential campaign. And if the kids are stuck in the Wildsidhe for long enough, will they get to be 18, and will they find some way to obtain an absentee ballot?
There are clear mixed messages in this volume. "We got lucky here. Without proper manpower on the fence line, it's just a matter of time before they get in ... nothing is more important than our security here." (pp 62-3). But after the victory: "the Wildsidhe is giong to be our home for a long time now. It's about time we started making it a place that we can stand living in. With the Braag as our allies, we'll be twice as secure as before, which was pretty damn safe, considering all the fine work you've done. Wayne smiled uncomfortably, tryiing to do his best to adjust to what was apparently a new order." Five years later, would Cole want the same kind of new order for the Wildsidhe? Other sections of the book clearly show the author grappling with the question of whether Saddam Hussein should have been deposed after the first Gulf War, which question is kind of skirted in the debate over whether to ally with or vanquish the Braag. Yet for all the effort taken throughout to use the WIldsidhe as a prism with which to view geopolitics in the 21st century, this book never achives the allegorical brilliance of Kafka's Metamorphosis or Orwell's 1984.
Regardless, the battle with the dwarves is written with much more verve and passion than the opening chapter depiction of a Wildsidhe baseball game complete with a pixie-driven scoreboard. Pixie driven scoreboard? Well, as noted above, parts of this book will clearly appeal more to kids than to their parents.
Would the dwarves have attacked at all if the ballpark in the Wildsidhe had a better bottle law? Good fences make good neighbors and good prohibited items policies at baseball games might just make the difference between a new Pax Americana in the 21st century and an end of the American empire.
- The Brillig Blogger
- A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.