YA novel breaks into new dimension: A review of Laura Maisano’s ‘Schism’

Editor’s note: If you wish to purchase the book, please click the image of the book cover to go to Amazon. This profits both the writer and the Exile.

Unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence I’ve met a being from another dimension.

No matter. The salmon-skinned, winged Illirin Seer, Aime Nee, was out and about in Dallas, Texas, last month promoting her alter ego Laura Maisano‘s YA novel, Schism.

Schism proves a fun read about a mismatched pair of college students, Gabe Jones and Lea Huckley, who discover they are chasing down the same path (or should I say, portal?) toward an alternate dimension — the realm of the Illirin, a world connected to Earth by more than the dimensional pathways known as “thinnings.”

While Gabe is taking an art class as a way to fend off his grief over the loss of his fiancee and recover from memory loss, he meets Lea, a math student actively seeking a fourth dimension. After their accidental meeting, they not only discover the fourth dimension, they discover Gabe’s secret — he is Illirin, a winged inhabitant of the other realm, and one who suddenly and reluctantly gets great power thrust into his hands. Power that puts two worlds onto the cusp of interdimensional war.

The novel is a fast-paced fantasy, with plenty of romance, betrayal, and action.

It left me wanting to know more about the Illirin realm, however. Maisano touches on this new world in brief glimpses, which is appropriate given the protagonists only recently discovered it exists and that they both have ties to it.

Fortunately, this is the first book planned in a series. So, the glimpses are likely to evolve into fully formed sights. And the final pages of Schism also hint of Nee’s future role, outside of book promotions.

— Todd

 

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Happy Birthday Mr. Burroughs

Today is Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ birthday (born 1875).

As Hollywood via Disney reminded us this spring, Tarzan’s creator also created a certain Martian warlord, John Carter, and reacquainted some of us with the warrior’s exploits, and maybe a new generation to Burroughs’ characters and fiction with the release of  John Carter, an entertaining, action-packed and visually stimulating—especially if you saw it in 3D—movie that  was, however, panned by some critics as  “. . .  bloated, dreary and humorless” (USA Today).

Those critics are themselves probably bloated, dreary and humorless. And likely never cared for Burroughs and his fertile imagination in the first place. Or if they did at one time care, have obviously lost that sense of wonder and adventure.

As far as the movie goes, Roger Ebert—as usual—best understands it, its genre and the expectations it should have fulfilled as a movie based on classic pulp SF, as he writes in his review of the film:

Does John Carter get the job done for the weekend action audience? Yes, I suppose it does. The massive city on legs that stomps across the landscape is well-done. The Tharks are ingenious, although I’m not sure why they need tusks. Lynn Collins makes a terrific heroine. And I enjoyed the story outside the story, about how Burroughs wrote a journal about what he saw and appears briefly as character. He may even turn up in sequels. After all, he wrote some.

And for those of you unfamiliar with the John Carter storyline, here’s Ebert again to summarize it:

Burroughs’ hero is a Civil War veteran who finds himself in the Monument Valley, where he has an encounter that transports him to the red planet Mars. This is not the Mars that NASA’s Rovers are poking into, but the Mars envisioned at the time Burroughs was writing, which the astronomer Percival Lowell claimed was criss-crossed by a system of canals. Luckily for Carter, it has an atmosphere that he can breathe and surface temperatures allowing him do without a shirt.

Maybe one day I’ll tackle the merits of John Carter (the movie), but today’s post is simply to share some tidbits about Burroughs, the writer: He and his family, for instance, in 1914 moved to Oak Park, Ill., where Ernest Hemingway, a teenager at the time the  Burroughs’ family arrived, was born and raised. Hemingway may have out of curiosity, Hemingway biographer Kenneth S. Lynn writes, “familiarized himself with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels . . . .” though the Hemingway family, mother Grace in particular, were Anglophiles who packed the bookshelves with Dickens, Shakespeare and the rest of the literary crew from across the Pond.

(I like to think Hemingway read Burroughs; he was a voracious reader, and how could Tarzan or any other of Burroughs’ heroes not appeal to Hemingway’s sense of budding masculinity? Then again, Hemingway dismissed fantasy and science fiction as genres; of course he dismissed most writers as terrible at one point or another in his lifetime no matter how good or bad.)

Another aside: Frank Lloyd Wright also moved to, lived and worked in Oak Park ( a suburb of Chicago) around the time Hemingway was born (July 21, 1899). What an intellectually stimulating neighborhood that must have been!

Now back to Burroughs.  Martian princess Dejah Thoris was his first successful character—he had written earlier stories—created in 1911. The princess,  Burroughs’ official website says, attracted the attention of All-Story magazine editor Thomas Metcalf, who “liked the tale and offered Burroughs $400, an extravagant sum. The story, renamed ‘Under the Moons of Mars,’ was serialized from February to July of 1912.”

Burroughs’ most famous creation, Tarzan of the Apes, swung into action in 1912.  According to the website:

Burroughs received $700 for the tale — and his career was off and running. Burroughs quickly discovered (probably to his secret delight, and certainly to the delight of countless readers) that he had many more tales to tell. There would be the inevitable Tarzan and Mars sequels but Burroughs’ imagination needed even more worlds in which to roam, and so in the next few years he would try his hand at almost every type of story imaginable.

Burroughs died March 19, 1950 in Encino, Calif.

___

*Editor’s note: If you’re out and about this weekend, and because you hopefully have a long three-day weekend (you slackers), maybe you can also celebrate the beginning of National Literacy Month by reading Burroughs.

“How did you get into this stuff?”

Perdido Street Station (New Crobuzon, #1)Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

How did I get into this stuff? I ask, paraphrasing China Mieville’s question to himself in the New Yorker’s Science Fiction issue.

Robert E. Howard. Conan the Barbarian. Monsters and swashbuckling battles. Comics. Star Wars. D&D. That’s just the short list of how I got into fantasy and science fiction.

Let’s backtrack to D&D. At the root of Perdido Street Station‘s story is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure, full of magic, monsters, swashbuckling battles, and adventurers willing to do “anything for gold and experience” (p. 383).

Of course, it’s much more complex than a Saturday night gaming session (paper, pencils, dice and miniatures subbing for digital images)—not that a session of D&D can’t be as complex as a novel. But, unless you play the game long enough with the same group, and survive the DM’s whims, it’s hard to fulfill the promises of a lengthy novel, the depth of character, an evolving plot and subplot that can be fully explored. A fully-realized world.

And a fully-realized world, a city—New Crobuzon—as alive and bustling as any real city, and peopled with just as fantastic creatures as a real city: the tortured Remade, the mysterious Jack Half-a-Prayer, the birdlike garuda, the monstrous psyche-sucking slake-moths that the main characters must finally destroy.

Which is the basic plot, one that could rival and perhaps surpass any the most sadistic Dungeon Master could create: one the human scientist Isaac undertakes after the garuda Yagharek, exiled from his people for taking away another’s choice, hires Isaac to rebuild his wings so he can fly once again. Isaac takes up the task, and in his experiments to learn how to engineer the wings, accidentally unleashes a terror that stalks the city. Reluctant at first to fight the slake-moths, Isaac is driven into the battle not only to help the garuda, but also to save his girlfriend, and test out the crisis engine that could lead him to scientific notoriety.

One one the things that drew me to reading more of Mieville’s novels, after being completely rocked by his Hugo-winning The City & The City, was learning Mieville grew up playing D&D. It’s clear the game is a serious influence, on his imagination, but Perdido Street Station takes you beyond the limiting world of elves and dwarves and dragons into a blend of magic and science and mixed technologies–the characters arm themselves with flintlocks, but are aided by steam- and magic-driven construct/robots. Mieville is well known for his efforts to genre-bust, and Perdido Street does that very well.

It’s mostly a riveting book, although it slows about midway (it’s 623 pages in the paperback edition I read) and Mieville does seem to to linger on repetitious descriptions of the psyche stealing slake-moths (although his descriptions of them exploding in the end were exquisite), but overall the novel pulls you in and holds you and reminds you of why you got into this stuff (fantasy & science fiction) in the first place: it’s a riveting tale with fascinating characters and it draws you into its world.

And I’ll let Mieville ask you the final question: “How did they [readers] get out of it?”

View all my reviews

Booking Through Thursday: Science Fiction and Fantasy

Here is Booking Through Thursday’s latest:

One of my favorite sci-fi authors (Sharon Lee) has declared June 23rd Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers Day.

As she puts it:

So! In my Official Capacity as a writer of science fiction and fantasy, I hereby proclaim June 23 Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Day! A day of celebration and wonder! A day for all of us readers of science fiction and fantasy to reach out and say thank you to our favorite writers. A day, perhaps, to blog about our favorite sf/f writers. A day to reflect upon how written science fiction and fantasy has changed your life.

So … what might you do on the 23rd to celebrate? Do you even read fantasy/sci-fi? Why? Why not?

 

I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy (also played fantasy and science fiction role-playing games, which I’ve written about before), and still love science fiction in particular, though I haven’t read much lately, except for William Hjortsberg’s Gray Matters. Of course, I keep in touch with science fiction through TV and movies as well — and have to say that although not a Trekkie by any means, the recent Star Trek movie is one of the best movies I’ve seen lately, not just science fiction, but in general; and kudos to Battlestar Galactica.

I think both science fiction and fantasy, as genres, used to bet too much bad critical press, despite such quality writers as Ursula K. LeGuin.

So, go boldly and read . . .