by Terrance V. Mc Arthur
Here are a couple of fantasy and Sci-Fi reviews for your spring reading.
The Revisionists by Robert Mullen
They circulate among us, unrecognized, making sure that bad things happen in our soon-to-be present to preserve the future that they call the Perfect Present. They are…The Revisionists in Thomas Muller’s (The Last Town on Earth, The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers) science-fiction thriller.
Zed has been sent back from the future to take out groups of “hags” (historical agitators) who use time travel to try preventing murders and deaths that led up to what is called “The Conflagration,” a world-wide destruction that laid the seeds for their society where there is no religious hatred (there are no religions), no racism (interbreeding has created a generically-multiracial look), no war, and no memories of the past. When Zed’s wife and daughter died in an accident, the government came in to remove all pictures, clothing, gifts, and papers that would remind him of the deceased. It is a world with no problems…allowed.
Time and society are made of many paths, and this book includes a former CIA agent trying to discredit a protest group, the Indonesian near-slave servant of a South Korean diplomat and his wife, and a corporate lawyer whose brother died in a foreign war under circumstances that have never been satisfactorily explained. These threads of story intertwine from many points of view, creating a fractured vision of a chaotic unreality.
Many SF tales of time travel tell of people going back in time to prevent tragedies: killing Hitler before he rises to power, locking Lee Harvey Oswald out of the Dallas Book Depository building so he can’t assassinate John F. Kennedy. This is the first book I’ve encountered where the goal is to make sure that nobody interferes with the little killings that will make the future happen. Zed is confused by the layers of lies and pretense that surround the life he is leading, not sure if his efforts are right for the world, and losing the technological power and guidance he has always used.
Zed is not very likeable, which is probably why I like him so much. Probably the most noble character is the servant Sari, a perennial doormat in every society where she has lived, who finally survives by lowering her expectations. All of the characters are being used by other characters and forces.
Utopian stories tell of a future more perfect than our own. Dystopian fiction presents a future that is horribly flawed. The Revisionists doesn’t show much of the Perfect Present Future; just enough to let you know that it isn’t a place where you would want to be. This is a novel of a dystopian future that proves its point by showing how dystopian the present is.
The road to the future isn’t always a super-highway; sometimes, it’s an unpaved washboard that will thrash your suspension.
Sound Bender by Lin Oliver & Theo Baker
What if you had a gift that allowed you to hear the past connected with things that you touched…even things that weren’t very nice?
In Lin Oliver and Theo Baker’s Sound Bender for middle-graders through junior high, thirteen-year-old Leo Lomax is the Sound Bender, blessed with that power at his birth by the natives and shaman of a music-centered Pacific island, a power kept hidden from him until a mysterious birthday envelope arrives from his father, who recently disappeared with the boy’s mom during a sightseeing flight in Antarctica.
Leo and Hollis, his younger-but-more-popular brother, must live with his very-rich step-uncle, a man who traffics in priceless antiquities from a luxuriously furnished warehouse penthouse in the worst part of town. The boys don’t know what to think of their new existence, and then Leo doesn’t know what to make of anything, when touching a photograph of an ancestor sends him hurtling into the sounds of World War I.
At first, Leo uses his powers selfishly, exhibiting unusual knowledge of a girl he sorta-kinda likes (learned from picking up something she had dropped) to impress her, and making jokes about a boy because of the past that he hears. He begins to see that such actions are ethically wrong, just before his sound-bending touch propels him into large-scale adventures.
Holding a sinister-looking device from one of the step-uncle’s storage area crates creates strange sounds and images in Leo’s mind that send him to his mentor’s old record store, and off to islands in the South Pacific, where he has a meeting of the minds with a pod of dolphins. Along the way, Leo alienates Hollis, who likes the lush life that tempts the boys, and who feels shut out by the secrets Leo is keeping from him.
The brothers, whose bickering takes a while before it rings true to their ages, are inspired by father-and-son musicologists John and Alan Lomax, whose field recordings and books in the twentieth century preserved countless folksongs from extinction.
Oliver and Baker are a mother/son team of writers. Lin Oliver co-wrote the Hank Zipzer series with Henry Winkler, and has created shows for PBS, Fox, Nickelodeon, and The Disney Channel, while Theo Baker has written about, produced, and sold music.
Sound Bender is an intriguing idea for the younger set, with enough moral complexity to keep a grown-up interested.
(Please note for the record that in this review, even though the book deals with dolphins, I made no jokes about doing things “on porpoise.”)