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And All Between, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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And All Between, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

When we left the world of Green-sky at the end of Below the Root, Genaa had discovered that her father was still alive in Erda, D'ol Falla and Raamo had decided that the illness and loss of Spirit-skills among the Kindar were the result of the sparation between the Erdlings and the Kindar -- and the gulf between the Kindar and the Ol'zhaan, as well. They came to the decision that the Erdlings and Kindar needed to be reunited.

But before we can see how Falla and Raamo plan to reunite the peoples and put their plan into action, we go back to the beginning of Below the Root and see those same days through the eyes of Teera and the Erdlings.

I am very glad we covered this territory, although watching the same dialogue rehashed with a different perspective character gets a little tiring after a while. We needed to see Erdling society and the events that led up to Teera's departure from Erda. We needed to see Teera adjusting to the world above the root, both on her own in the forest, and then while living with the D'oks. And, I believe, we especially needed to see the scene where Teera's parents tell her that they are going to have to eat Haba. We see how sorry her parents are that they are going to have to sacrifice the lapan, and see Teera being told that they have actively put off sacrificing Haba because of her status as an only child.

After Teera runs away, we also see the Erdlings looking for her. Her parents search for her for days, and finally her father is excused from his job to continue the search.

As we know, word will reach her parents that Teera is all right and is in Orbora. This moment happens at the halfway point of And All Between.

At this point, just as Raamo and Falla decide to reunite the Kindar and Erdlings, someone kidnaps Pomma and Teera. This is where the new plot starts.

Raamo, Falla, Genaa, and Neric decide that someone should go to Erda and bring Hiro D'anhk, Genaa's father, back. They decide to send Genaa and Neric, and Falla provides them with the location of the entrance where they leave the Verban. The pair take some food and head off into the darkness.

After they have left, Raamo and Falla find out that Regle has the weapon, and that he has kidnapped Pomma and Teera. Raamo and Falla buy some time by getting Regle to agree not to harm the children until after Genaa and Neric return.

Most of the action in the second half of And All Between takes place in Erda. We follow Genaa and Neric through the far-flung tunnels that lead to the city of Erda, and watch the Erdlings' reactions to two Ol'zhaan in their midst. Not only Ol'zhaan, even, but Ol'zhaan who say that they want to free the Erdlings.

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Below the Root, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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Below the Root, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Snyder's Green-Sky trilogy was the second fantasy series I ever read, though it exists in that gray area between fantasy and science fiction (several books I love are in this gray area). The first, of course, was The Chronicles of Narnia. The Hobbit was several years in my future at this point. I will, of course, review all of these books in due time.

Below the Root takes place on the planet Green-sky, home of the Kindar. Green-sky is a rainforest planet dominated by gigantic trees, called "Grunds" in which the people live, and "rooftrees" which form the canopy. The Kindar are vegetarians and live a life dedicated to nonviolence. One of the sayings central to life on Green-sky is "I shall not lift my hand to any other except to offer Love and Joy."

When the Kindar reach the age of thirteen, they are given their careers. Though saying that they are "given" their careers isn't strictly accurate. Their careers are assigned to them, but the children are asked what they would like to have as their career, and if their temperament and talents lean in that direction, that will be their assignment.

The book opens just after the assignments are given out, as Raamo D'ok sits alone in the forest, stunned. He has just been told that he is going to become one of the Ol'zhaan, the rulers of Green-sky. He has retained some of the Spirit-skills that children usually grow out of by his age -- pensing (telepathy), kiniporting (telekinesis), healing, and Grunspreking (affecting the growth of plants). He is aware that he has kept these abilities longer than average, but he cannot believe that his Spirit-skills are strong enough to make him an Ol'zhaan.

Raamo's selection as an Ol'zhaan leads him to make some disturbing discoveries about Green-sky. He discovers, for example, that he is stronger in the Spirit-skills than anyone else he can find, even among the Ol'zhaan. In fact, he discovers the Spirit-skills are dying. And not only are the Spirit-skills dying, but so is the Wissenvine. The Wissenvine was a native plant of Green-sky which was manipulated with Grunspreking into something else. It holds prisoner beneath its root the terrible Pash-shan, monsters with sharp teeth and claws that would otherwise be a constant threat to the people of Green-sky.

Adding to Raamo's distress, his sister, Pomma, is ill with something called "the wasting." As time has gone by, more people have contracted the wasting, and the disease gets worse with every generation. Originally, it was almost a form of alcholism. The berries of the Wissenvine have intoxicating properties, and early sufferers of the wasting were able to get through their days if they were dosed with Wissenberries. But now the wasting has taken on a fatal form. Now it resembles depression more than anything else. The sufferers gradually lose interest in all of the activities of life. They lose their jobs and stop eating, only wanting more Wissenberries. Pomma has all but stopped eating and only seldom goes to school at the Garden. She may well be the next victim to die from the disease.

I have really amazingly positive memories of this book. In fact, to this day, whenever I see a Passionflower, I think, "A Wissenflower!" And my rereading has not spoiled my memories of the book one bit. The world that Snyder has created is vivid and I have so many memories (most of them fond) of the characters -- Raamo, Genaa, Neric, Falla (whose name, unfortunately, always reminded me of Falada, the horse from "The Goose Girl"), and, of course, Pomma and her pet sima (which I've always pictured as a lavender squirrel monkey), Baya.

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The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau

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The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau

I have now read The City of Ember five times, and I enjoy it more with each reading. The world is vivid, the characters are lively, and the entire premise is fascinating.

The premise of The City of Ember is that before an apocalyptic event of some sort, people were sent into hiding in an underground city. They were given enough food and light bulbs to support them for approximately 225 years. The instructions on how to leave the city were given to the mayor of the city, and handed down from one mayor to the next. The box that contained the instructions had a timer that was set to go off in Year 225. However, in around the 150th year, the seventh Mayor became fatally ill and in desperation tried to open the box early in hopes that it contained a cure for the illness. He failed to open the box, and the box ended up shoved in a closet and all but forgotten.

Our story opens in the Year 241 -- 16 years after the mayor of Ember was supposed to be given the instructions. Supplies are running out. Lina, one of the protagonists, has been told that there were all sorts of foods that she has never had -- one of those are cans of things called "pineapple," -- and that some of the plants in the greenhouse are starting to get some kind of blight. Light bulbs, their only source of light, are now being rationed. The generator that powers the city seems to be on its last legs, as well.; there are power outages, which are getting more frequent, and getting longer.

The protagonists of The City of Ember are Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow. As the book opens, they are both 12 years old. In Ember, students attend school until they turn 12. At this point, they get their first jobs with the city, which are drawn by lots from a fabric bag. The storyline picks up on Selection Day. Lina ends up working in the Pipeworks, and Doon gets the position of Messenger. Lina truly had her heart set on being a Messenger, and Doon wants to help fix the city, so they switch jobs.

Lina, it turns out, is descended from the seventh mayor, and the box containing the instructions on how to leave Ember was in a closet in her home. Lina finds them only after her baby sister, Poppy, has gotten hold of them and ripped them up. She can see that they are instructions of some sort, and she enlists Doon in figuring out what they mean.

There are two subplots, one involving smuggling, and the other involving the belief that is held by some of the people of Ember that the Builders will be coming soon to save them. Meanwhile, Lina has been dreaming of another city -- a city that is as light as Ember is dark. She believes that her city exists somewhere, if only she can find the way to get there.

In fact, the idea that some humans, at least, have a mild precognitive ability runs throughout the entire Books of Ember series. I actually have a sort of fear of the end of the world left over from my youth in the 1980s, and as a result, I have trouble reading books in which the world ends on-screen, so I have only read three of the four Ember books. The one I haven't read, The Prophet of Yonwood also involves a person who has a premonition. This premonition is the reason that they built Ember in the first place.

DuPrau did a wonderful job building Ember. Everything is vivid and it is clear that she did a lot of thinking about how Ember should work. Though I have to admit that I wonder what kind of canning process the Builders used that the food is still reliably good after 241 years. Nowadays, 241-year-old cans would contain more than a few unpleasant surprises.

I have to caution the reader not to rely on the movie for any of the details of the book. Pretty much the only parts that are the same are Lina's and Doon's jobs and most of the plot about the instructions. For example, Doon's father does not know anything about the Instructions, there are significant differences between the Instructions in the book and in the movie, and there are no giant anythings, much less moths and moles. Read the book; it's much better than the movie.

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Michael Vey 2: The Rise of the Elgen

This book had some really amazingly good parts, and some kind of problematic ones.

As the book opens, Michael and the Electroclan (now consisting of Michael, Ostin, Taylor, Abigail, Grace, Ian, Jack, McKenna, Wade, and Zeus) return to Idaho. We know from the prologue that there is a trap set up for the Electroclan, but it takes until they return to Ostin's home for Ian to use his electrolocation (Ian can see anything -- even miles away and through walls -- with electricity) that Ostin's parents are not there, but his apartment is full of Elgen guards.

While they are searching for a safe place to hide (ideally somewhere they can download the data that Grace is carrying inside herself and they can begin the search for Michael's mother), Michael is contacted by an anonymous source of information. This source reaches Michael through a cell phone with no dial pad and no battery. The phone has two metal strips on the side, and is powered by the electricity in Michael's own body, which makes it unusable to anyone else.

Once the kids find a safe place that has a computer with a large enough hard drive, they find out that Michael's mother is being held in Peru, and the voice, as they come to call their source, helps them get to Peru.

Meanwhile, things are changing rapidly for Hatch. His scientists have found a way to use the same thing that caused the Glows to create limitless clean energy. I thought about keeping it a secret, but since it's telegraphed on the cover, I'll just tell you. They have created electric rats. The more rats they create (two rats can create a billion descendants in three years), the more rat-powered plants they can build. The more plants they build, the more of the world Elgen can control by threatening to withhold electricity from them.

The board of Elgen has decided that the electric rat plan is the wave of the future, and so they discontinue Hatch's project to create more Glows. They order Hatch to provide the existing Glows with a trust fund and arrange for their futures outside of his influence, but Hatch isn't going to go easily. He makes moves to not only hold on to the Glows, but to take over Elgen's electric-rat-based plants for himself.

Oh, and the rats are carnivorous. They can strip a bull clean in minutes, and we won't go into what happens to people that Hatch dislikes.

The problematic things include what is, for me, a lot of violence. Much of the violence is meted out by the villains (including the aforementioned death by rat), but some of it is the result of actions on the part of the heroes. Several people are killed onscreen, during a life-or-death situation, by a new member of the Electroclan towards the end of the book, and there are a few scenes of animals being killed when it is not a life-or-death situation. Speaking of animals, I think that Evans gets the bite pattern of an anaconda wrong, but I am not a herpetologist. It just seemed off. Though it is a mark of how good Evans's research is that that is the only real error I can find in the science.

Additionally, there is a stereotypical "bone-through-the-nose" indigenous tribe that appears in the pages of this book. This made me more than slightly uncomfortable, but I did a little research, and apparently the description Evans gives is fairly representative of some of the uncontacted tribes in the region. Something else happens towards the end of the book that made me email Evans to ask what that was about. And I'm not the type who emails authors frequently. In fact, I don't think I have ever done that before.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this book and am really looking forward to the next book in the series. Particularly if Evans explains what was up with that part at the end.

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The Headless Cupid, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Another old favorite from my childhood, The Headless Cupid is the story of the Stanley family -- David, age 11, Janie, age 7, Esther and Blair, both age 4, their father and stepmother, and their stepsister, Amanda, age 12.

The book opens as the four Stanley children await the arrival of their new stepsister. They have only met her once, during the early days of their father's relationship with her mother, and David did not get an overall positive impression of her. He uses the term "upside-down smile" to describe the expression on her face.

When Amanda arrives, she is wearing a long black dress, old-fashioned shoes, and a red-and-purple shawl. She has her hair in a multitude of braids and has a reflective triangle fixed in the middle of her forehead. She soon explains that she is a witch and that this is her ceremonial costume. She also has a crow in a cage, that she explains is her Familiar.

The Stanley family is not without its peculiar aspects. The late Mrs. Stanley had some psychic ability, including a little bit of precognition, so when Amanda says that she is a witch, the kids are intrigued rather than frightened.

The Stanleys live in a large old house in the country. The house has an unusually ornate banister on the staircase, featuring vines and four large balls. The balls are held up by two cupids (they may be cherubs, technically, or perhaps Putti) apiece, holding them aloft on their fingertips. One cupid, however, is missing a head. The head has been gone for a long time, since the banister has clearly been varnished since the loss of the head, and the top of the cupid's neck is varnished over.

In scenes that have made this book frequently a feature of banned books lists, Amanda offers to initiate the Stanley siblings into her coven. She requires them to have a ceremonial costume that includes something old, something from someone who is dead, and something stolen, and nothing in their outfit can be white. She doesn't understand the import, however, of the fact that she now lives in a house deep in the country, rather than in the city. The way that the Stanleys get through her requirements are ingenious, but Amanda is unimpressed.

She also sets a series of trials for them. Of course, the astute reader will see what is really going on -- Amanda is setting the kids up to get into trouble. But the kids manage to survive the trials and get initiated into the coven.

Amanda also holds a seance, with interesting results.

Later, however, the son of the man who created the banister tells the Stanleys that the cupid's head was removed by a poltergeist. Soon afterwards, poltergeist activity begins in the Stanley household -- rocks appear from nowhere and objects break when no one is around. And where did the poltergeist hide the head?

The most important question is will Amanda ever truly become part of the family?

I had fond memories of this book. One of my best childhood friends read it, too back when I was in seventh or eighth grade, and she enjoyed it as well. It was actually a huge kick to see the book there on the table in her house and to be able to talk to her about it once she finished it.

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The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

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The Egypt Game, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I fairly devoured Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books when I was a child, and would go back and reread them frequently. In fact, when I was 13, my mom's boss, the administrative librarian of her library, asked me who my favorite author was. I answered "Zilpha Keatley Snyder." So it has been a real joy to begin my project of rereading and reviewing her books. I also read every book twice before I review it, so that I can see how well it holds up once the reader knows what is going on, and these books hold up remarkably well under rereading.

The Egypt Game is the story of April, whose mother is a singer and budding actress. When her mother's career, and her romance with her manager, Nick, begin to take off, she ships April off to live with Caroline, the mother of April's now-deceased father. April excels at keeping her paternal grandmother at arms' length, largely by insisting on calling her "Caroline," rather than "Grandma." April also feigns an adult sophistication that she doesn't actually have, putting her hair up in a clumsily executed upswept hairdo and wearing badly applied false eyelashes.

April's saving grace, and the thing that bonds her to her new best friend, Melanie, is her vivid imagination. She and Melanie play all sorts of imaginative games. Then one day they see that the fence to the storage yard of a secondhand store has a loose board. They slide it open and discover a treasure trove of interesting things, including a chipped copy of the famous head of Nefertiti from the New Museum in Berlin. They quickly dub the head "Isis," and soon they have developed a whole realm of Egypt within that storage yard.

They are joined by another little girl from their building, Elizabeth, and Melanie's ever-present younger brother Marshall. Some other surprising additions are made later.

The kids take Egyptian names, learn hieroglyphics (since hieroglyphics were usually written in bright colors, this necessitates a break in their time in Egypt so that they can save up the money for colored pencils), and even mummify Elizabeth's parakeet.

This edition has a foreword in which Snyder says that this book has some basis in reality. She was working as a teacher (as Melanie's mother does) while her husband went to grad school at Berkeley (as Melanie's father is). The kids are based loosely on students she taught in her multiethnic neighborhood. Her daughter was the source for some of this book as well, since she attempted to mummify her own parakeet during her own childhood.

At first, I thought that The Egypt Game which was written in 1967, was truly an artifact of a previous time. The kids run around the neighborhood seemingly unsupervised a lot of the time, but then something shocking happens, and even though I read this book when I was younger, I didn't remember that plot development. The reaction to this event is something that cannot be pinned down to one time.

The Egypt Game ends with April asking Melanie a question. This question remains unanswered for 30 years. I can just imagine that one question hanging in the air for 30 years, until Melanie answers it in 1997. The answer comes in Snyder's 1997 novel The Gypsy Game, which is on my list, but, as of this writing, I haven't read it yet.

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Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, by Richard Paul Evans

Michael Vey is a fourteen-year-old high school freshman who lives in Meridian, Idaho. He also has Tourette's Syndrome. This does not mean that he curses uncontrollably, like in the popular perception of the condition. Rather, he has tics. He blinks and swallows and makes random sounds. Between his size (he is very short for his age), his Tourette's, his general social awkwardness and his best friend being Ostin Liss, the smartest kid in school, and himself the target of bullies, Michael spends a lot of time dealing with bullies.

One day he is set upon by the school bullies, Jack, Wade, and Mitchell, and strikes back. He zaps them with electricity and tells them that it could have been worse. That is the first time that we, and cheerleader Taylor Ridley, see that there is more to Michael than meets the eye.

Additionally, someone has been looking for two missing children for the past fourteen years, and it turns out that Michael is one of them. We find out that fourteen years ago, the staff at Pasadena General Hospital was testing out a new imaging device, made by a company called Elgen. Somehow it affected the babies born during that period, most of whom died. There were seventeen survivors, and Michael was one of them.

Michael gets an invitation to a private school with a student body of 17, called the Elgen Academy. By now, Michael knows that he is one of the babies that was affected by Elgen's machine. So, of course, he instantly realizes that this is Elgen's attempt to get him under their control, and refuses to go. However, when Michael's mother and Taylor are kidnapped, Michael and Ostin know that the school is the first place to look for them. Soon they, and a couple of surprising other characters, head off to California to rescue them.

We find out that the surviving children have different types of special abilities, all having to do with electricity. Evans builds on the idea that animal nervous systems are electrical in nature. Besides Michael's ability to project electricity, we find, for example, that one of the kids has the ability to affect the emotions of other people. Another can generate heat and light. The way that science, and bioelectricity in particular, is used in this book has led to it being named an Outstanding Book by the National Science Teachers Association.

Michael has an unexpected ability, too, that Ostin finds while testing Michael's abilities. Michael seems to be able to absorb electricity from around himself and direct it.

We do, of course, find out what Cell 25 is. The promotional material for the book offer the reader a chance to glimpse what is in Cell 25 if you visit the book's website. And, after seeing what is in Cell 25, I have to ask, "Why would I want to do that?" I know that it's just a gimmick and probably is jus some supplemental material, such as an interview with the author, but still . . . . I feel this was not the best possible marketing choice.

One of the most peculiar things about the book is that most of it is written in the first person, from Michael's point of view. However, once Taylor gets kidnapped, we see things from her perspective, in the third person. It is an interesting approach, though I have known some people in the fanfiction-writing community who would be extremely critical of this technique. I wonder how things would have worked out if Evans had attempted different first-person perspectives, similar to what Rick Riordan does in his Kane Chronicles series.

Overall, though, I loved this book. The characters, the danger, the science. It was with a very pleasant feeling of anticipation that I waited for the second book (which I have now read and am currently working on my review of). This is shaping up to be an amazing series.

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Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams

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Turn Right at Machu Picchu, by Mark Adams

Another book of history and adventure, Turn Right at Machu Picchu chronicles the travels of the writer, Mark Adams, through Peru. Adams worked as an editor for an adventure travel magazine, but had never traveled in an adventurous way in his life. He had a connection to Peru through his wife, who is Peruvian, and one thing led to another and he decided to follow the trail that Hiram Bingham III took through the Andes when he first visited Machu Picchu. Bingham has long been claimed to be the discoverer of Machu Picchu, but there were families living on the site at the time. So, "discoverer" isn't really the correct term. He is, however, the man who brought knowledge of Machu Picchu to European-descended people. He also may have raised awareness to the point where preservation became a priority for the Peruvian government. Without Bingham, Machu Picchu may have been taken away, stone-by-stone, by grave robbers.

The book moves back and forth in time among the age of the Incas, the life and times of Hiram Bingham III, and Adams's trek through the Andes.

I suspect that this book may be more of a memoir than a straight autobiography. In other words, Adams may have exaggerated events and personalities in the book. But it is still a fantastic read -- interesting and amusing by turns. I have read passages from it to my friends and family, just so that they can see what I'm laughing about.

Bingham came from a family of adventurers. His grandfather, Hiram Bingham I -- as an aside it really feels weird to write "I" that way; my mom always taught me that unless we are talking about royalty or Popes, if a grandfather, father, and son all have the same name, they should be "Senior," "Junior," and "III," but Adams uses "I", so I am using it, too. Hiram Bingham I built the first Christian church in Hawaii, in 1820. A subsequent church, built on the site in 1837, is still there today, in downtown Kailua. Hiram I didn't stay on the Big Island very long, and soon moved to Honolulu. Hiram I was not fond of the Hawaiians, and they didn't much like him either. The people who ran the missions agreed with the Hawaiians. When Hiram I had to bring his wife back to the mainland for medical treatment, the missionary association refused to send them back to Hawaii.

Hiram III's father, Hiram II, followed in Hiram I's footsteps, only on the Gilbert Islands. Bingham however, was born in Honolulu when Hiram II had to go there for medical treatment. Bingham plotted his escape to the mainland for several years before he finally was sent there. And when, on his way back from a conference, he happened to overhear tales of a lost capital of the Incas, Bingham discovered that he had wandering feet, as well. He spent six years going back and forth between Yale and Peru, searching for history and, of course, for treasure.

Complicating matters was that the idea of archaeology evolved during those years. Originally, archaeology was treasure-hunting. Whoever found an item could take it out of the country, oftentimes without even needing to bribe anyone. By the end of Bingham's time in archaeology, the idea that the artifacts found should stay in the country had taken hold. Adams chronicles the problems this caused for Bingham in the 20th century and for Yale in the 21st.

This book is full of fascinating characters, both modern and historical. And as someone who has an entirely embarrassing fondness for The Emperor's New Groove, I was very pleased to find out that Pacha's name is an actual Quechua word ("Pacha" means "Earth," as in the ground, not the planet). I have had less luck with Yzma and Kronk.

I loved this book and have read it several times already. This may end up being one of those books I reread with frequency.

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Clay's Ark, by Octavia E. Butler

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Clay's Ark, by Octavia E. Butler

In Patternmaster, we meet mutated humans called "Clayarks." Clay's Ark is the origin story of the Clayarks.

The only character from any of the chronologically earlier books that is even mentioned in this book is the "Clay" of the name. This is, of course, our old friend Clay Dana, from Mind of My Mind. When he discovered his psychokinetic ability, he also discovered a way that that ability could be used to cross interstellar distances. The actual specifics of how that works are sort of handwaved away (unless there is some important scientific principle I am missing here), but we are told that every human has a baseline level of psychic ability, including psychokinesis. That baseline level is exactly what is needed to power the Dana Drive.

Clay's Ark is told in alternating chapters of the past and the present. The past chapters tell how Eli, the only surviving astronaut from the Ark's trip to Alpha Centauri Proxima sets up an enclave of people with the Clayark disease. The present chapters cover the interaction of Blake Maslin and his daughters, Rane and Keira with the people of the enclave.

While this is a relatively fresh way to let the story unfold, I found it to be in a way a less-effective storytelling device than Butler perhaps intended. All of the actual excitement is in the "Present" storylines. The "Past" storyline is, well, the past. We already know what happened in the past, because we have seen the way it has already unfolded. To use an entirely too United-States-centric analogy, it is like reading a thriller set during the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and trying to build a lot of drama and tension around the outcome of the American Revolution.

The Clayark disease is not truly a disease. It is, in fact, an invasion from another planet. An unstoppable invasion, because we have enough trouble fighting microbes of our own. How can we possibly stop a microbe from another planet? The actual way that the microbe came to infect the crew of the Ark is another case of handwaving. I guess the crew wasn't wearing any kind of protective clothing, either on the surface or after they took samples from the life forms they found onto their ships, which was careless. In a way, I almost wonder if the Clayark disease was meant to be an analogy for AIDS, which seemed unstoppable during the era when the book was written. And what stops HIV? Protective covering. You know what? I might be on to something here.

Even if they didn't know yet that protective covering can stop HIV (which they might not have -- I'm trying to remember), the Clayark disease = AIDS thing might have been a pretty good bit of prognostication. Unlike much of the rest of her predictions of the future.

As most science fiction writers do, Butler had ideas about how the future would unfold. Clay's Ark was published in 1984 and contained many predictions about the end of the 20th and the early 21st centuries. In some ways, she gets it spectacularly wrong. She envisioned a turn of the 21st century dominated by religious fervor, followed by a mass loss of faith when the Second Coming didn't happen in 2000. Of course, in real life, the society of the United States just kind of perked along without a whole lot of drama on any front. There was some excitement about the possibility of our computers no longer working as of midnight on December 31, 1999, but even that was pretty anticlimactic on the whole.

One of the recurrent themes in Butler's work is of a future where anyone with money lives in walled enclaves. Clay's Ark uses this theme. The Maslins lived in one of the enclaves, which the girls rarely left. Keira is dying of leukemia, though, and wants to see her paternal grandparents one more time before she dies. So her father drives her and Rane across the desert, where they are kidnapped by Eli and the other people with the disease. As I write this, the "present" of Clay's Ark is only nine years in our future, and so far very few children have been raised from birth in walled compounds, and most of those are members of minority religions.

I am in the habit of warning for sexual violence, and boy is there sexual violence in this one. The Maslins run into what Butler calls a "car family," which is basically a street gang that isn't actually in a city. They apparently drive around in isolated areas and kidnap people for ransom. If no ransom is to be had, they torture and, frequently, kill the people they kidnap.

Overall, despite its flaws in exeution, Clay's Ark is a fascinating meditation on a relatively unexplored idea about alien invasion. And, of course, it fulfills its intended purpose of filling in the backstory of the Clayarks.

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Mind of My Mind, by Octavia E. Butler

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Mind of My Mind, by Octavia E. Butler

Mind of My Mind opens in the late 20th century. Doro's breeding program is proceeding apace. He has a new child, Mary, whom he expects will be something highly unusual The problem is that every time he has attempted to make whatever-she-is-supposed-to-be, things end badly. In hopes that it will help her survive her transition (the period when a latent psychic becomes an active psychic), Doro marries her to one of his actives, Karl.

Karl has a nice life. He has a nice mansion that was given to him by someone who was planning to sell it anyhow, and didn't really need the money. He has a nice housekeeper, a nice cook, and a nice gardener. And he has a nice mistress. All of the above are somewhere on the continuum between pets and puppets. Karl has the ability to read, and affect, the minds of non-gifted humans.

In addition to Karl, we meet five more actives. One is Rachel Davidson, a healer who gets the energy to heal from the crowds who attend her healings. She uses the trappings of Christianity, but has no actual religious beliefs, Christian or otherwise. Another is Jan Sholto, who could not cope with the psychic interference from the people around her, so she shielded it all off. She retained one skill, though. She practices psychometry, which is the ability to "read" the history of objects. Jesse Bernarr (I wonder if his name came from Bernarr MacFadden) has an entire town under his thrall. He cannot drive, however, because he gets distracted by random thoughts from passing drivers. Ada Dragan is the one we know the least about going in. She mentally manipulated a man to marry her, but couldn't bring herself to make him love her. As a result, he hates her. She also is hurt by the thoughts of people around her, and cannot stand to be sit around and experience a child who is being abused and not do something about it. Ada also hungers to know more people like herself. And then there is Seth. Seth has a very close relationship with his brother, Clay, who is a latent, and cannot handle the thoughts that he occasionally picks up. In fact, we find out later on that Seth has been unconsciously shielding his brother

When Mary comes through her transition, she finds that she is connected to all six of these actives -- Ada, Jesse, Jan, Karl, Rachel, and Seth -- in what she refers to as a "Pattern." When she connects to them, each heads for California to find the person who is connected to them, and, most likely, kill him or her.

Doro is never very explicit about what Mary was supposed to turn out like, but he does seem surprised by her ability to connect to these people. Mary further discovers that she can read the minds of these six people without their knowledge, and that she can draw energy from them. In a way, she has to draw energy from them. Doro tells her that she is a parasite, which turns out not to be completely true.

Mary discovers that her ability to draw in actives is not limited to these six. She can draw in any actives anywhere in the world. She can also draw in latents and push them through transition. She also is a healer, a skill she learned from picking through Rachel's thoughts. She may be able to pick up other skills from the people in her Pattern, but Butler is never explicit about whether she can or not.

When Doro gives Mary two years to see what she can build, she surpasses his expectations. This is where things begin to go badly for Mary.

As with all of the other Butler novels I have read, I really enjoyed Mind of My Mind I was very surprised to find that this was not the first book in the Patternist series. It seems like it should be the centerpiece, but it is not. Like Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind is a prequel. The first book of the series written was Patternmaster, and this is the prequel that explains where the Pattern came from.

Since most of the actives in the Pattern have the ability to make pets or puppets out of non-gifted humans, the issue of slavery comes up here, as well. This time, one of the major questions is how far one can ethically bend a person's natural inclinations -- in at least one case, a "mute" (an ungifted person) who naturally loves children is forced to love a specific child. Also, the characters debate the morality of forcing a slave to enjoy his or her slavery. Most of the Patternists see no harm in it, but Emma takes a stand against it. I wonder if Emma was a sort of surrogate for Butler, since Emma ended up becoming a professional writer in the 20th century.

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