All the Wrong Questions

Stack Overflow: Spring Break

Books Columns Reviews Stack Overflow

This past week was spring break for my kids, so between that and GameStorm the weekend before, I’ve had not much reading time (and even less writing time). But, hey, doesn’t mean I can’t tell you about a few great reads.

Reflex Steven GouldAfter reading Jumper (see my last Stack Overflow), I got the second book, Reflex, from the library and plowed through it this past week. I was a little surprised to see how much time had passed between the two books–the publication dates were just over a decade apart, and the world had changed significantly between 1992 and 2004. For one, 9/11 had happened, and there are some references to that. (You can easily imagine the benefits of teleportation when it comes to travel in the period after 9/11.) There was also a reference to Harry Potter–something that didn’t even exist when the first book was published but was, of course, a worldwide phenomenon by the second.

Note: Spoilers ahead! Of course, the book is now a decade old, but if you haven’t read the first yet, you may want to skip this section and go to the next book on the list. By this time, there are cell phones, though we don’t actually get quite as much international politics, because the plot focuses inward. We find that Davy has reluctantly taken a job with the NSA, using his special ability to perform tasks that would be impossible (or extremely difficult) otherwise. He and Millie have been married for some time now, and when the book opens he’s just left her at the Aerie, the nearly-inaccessible home he’s built in some cliffs in Texas, to go meet his NSA handler. And then doesn’t return.

The book alternates between Millie and Davy. It turns out Davy has been kidnapped and drugged so that he can’t teleport away, and he spends the majority of the book being “conditioned” to obey the will of some unknown but clearly malicious controller. Meanwhile, Millie’s portion of the book is primarily about the fact that she has gained the ability to jump as well–and spends most of the book trying to track Davy down. It’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that they do eventually find each other, but the how and why is fascinating and worth reading.

Now that I’ve got this background on Davy and Millie, I may need to re-read Impulse before going on to the most recent book in the series, which I’ve already requested at the library. It’s pretty interesting to see a series that has been spread out over such a long time that the world has undergone significant changes in the interim. While the first book would probably qualify as Young Adult, this one seems to deal with more mature themes, as the characters have both aged and are in their late twenties/early thirties. And, of course, in book three they’ve got a teenage daughter, who becomes the main character.

At any rate, if you’re looking for some smart sci-fi with some intelligent social commentary and a fascinating macguffin, the Jumper series is definitely worth checking out.

Last of the SandwalkersThis next title is one I read a couple weeks ago but I’ve been holding off on a review because it’s not due out until next week. But, hey, close enough now.

The Last of the Sandwalkers is a graphic novel by Jay Hosler about beetles, and if you like bugs, you gotta check this out. Hosler is a biology professor and he knows his bugs. His first graphic novel, Clan Apis, is about the life of a honeybee, and it’s a lot funnier than you might think. Hosler combines scientifically-accurate depictions of insects with goofy humor (and grinning larvae) and it’s pretty brilliant.

His latest book is similar, but focuses on beetles, and it’s twice as long and every bit as detailed. The story opens on a beetle civilization in the desert–the beetles there believe that they’re pretty much the only thing alive, because they’ve never seen anything beyond their city. But Lucy believes there’s more out there, and sets out on an expedition with a few other beetles.

What’s great is that, although these beetles wear clothes and build gadgets and talk, their behavior and attributes are modeled after real-world insects. Even many of Lucy’s inventions are just clever uses of insect biology, like the pheromone bombs that she uses to signal the moths from miles away, or the dew-collecting tarps inspired by her own body. Hosler expertly blends fact and fiction in a way that’s never boring.

The story itself is a lot of fun, too–there are some interesting mysteries to uncover. What’s up with Raef the firefly and his faulty memory? What is Professor Owen up to? Will Lucy discover life outside the oasis?

The Last of the Sandwalkers is just an incredible book that’s full of geeky goodness, and I’d recommend it for both kids and adults. Hosler is having a blog tour so watch for a guest post from him later this week!

All the Wrong Questions

We’ll close out with this series. You’re probably already familiar with Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. My wife and I read through the series well before we had kids we loved the pessimistic intrusive narrator–a convention that many other children’s book writers have since picked up. I do remember feeling a little bit dissatisfied at the final conclusion of the series, but overall I liked the series and still think highly of Mr. Snicket.

He’s written many other things in the meantime (and frequently contributes to other books, always in character), but he’s returned to the mystery-filled world of the Baudelaires and VFD in this series, All the Wrong Questions. This series, however, is a prequel: it takes places when Snicket is still a boy, as he is first joining this mysterious (and still unnamed) organization. Like the original series, the books are still filled with snarky asides, incompetent adults, and resourceful kids, but there’s a fresh perspective on it–new settings, new characters, new questions to leave unanswered.

I’ve read through the first three books so far (the latest, Shouldn’t You Be in School?, was published last fall) and they’re a fun addition to any Snicket fan’s library–I mean, if you consider impending doom, mysterious strangers, and secret plots “fun.”

I got to see Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s, erm, “handler”) at a taping of Live Wire Radio recently where he talked about his latest book, a novel for adults called We Are Pirates, and it sounded pretty fascinating. (You can listen to that episode here.) I realized that I hadn’t actually read any of Handler’s writing for adults, so I put it on my list to check out at some undefined point in the future…

Well, that’s it for this week. Happy reading!

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