Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws By Shane Berryman (Tor Starscape, August 2006)

reviewed by Sherwood Smith.
Josh Blevins and his pal Eddie knock at the door to the home of a mysterious old guy who just moved into their neighborhood in Littleton, Tennessee. Josh pulls out a comic, points to the cover, and says, "I'm sure he's
Captain Fearless!" When he appears, Josh begs to be trained . . .

And a few years later, after intense training involving the learning of languages, many forms of self defense, and playing chess while doing several other tasks including standing on his head, Captain Fearless deems it time for Josh to apply to Burlington Academy for the Superhuman--the superhero training school. Josh's one problem is that he has no superpowers, but with all that training, surely he'll get in? No. He's turned down. He throws a fit--says he's a failure just like his father--but Fearless says they'll go storm the academy and force them to interview Josh. When this fails, Josh throws a far bigger tantrum, resolving it abruptly just before Fearless comes to him with good news--he pulled some strings and Josh is in!

At the academy, he picks his new superhero name, Chance Fortune, and his costume. He makes friends and enemies on first meetings--relationships that don't change. This includes his immediate attraction to Psy-chick, who becomes his girlfriend. His other friends end up in his fight team, the Outlaws, and the enemies comprise the fight team most feared in the school, the Invincibles, led by the arrogant, cruel demi-god Superion, whose single-minded evil makes Draco Malfoy look like Spongebob Squarepants by comparison. Chance's challenges in superhero training result in many attacks by Superion that are nearly lethal, but there seem to be no consequences. Meanwhile at the end of the year the standings in the fight
team competitions have the Outlaws versus Invincibles as rivals for the trophy. Meanwhile, there is something suspicious going on in the academy. Teachers and students alike seem to be turning into blank zombies, but no one seems to notice until almost too late. Can Chance save the day?

The audience for this book is probably the nine to twelve crowd. The writing is uneven, sometimes funny, other times klunky and confusing. There is little about what superheroes actually learn outside of the combat games, and characters are pretty much single-trait, either nerdy good guys or nasty bad guys. Josh goes in with mega-special training, but at each crisis he
seems to forget it all, after which he hates himself. Midway through we finally see him stand up to a bad guy and then help a friend, which starts a chain reaction that rescues the teammates from annihilation, after which we are told that Chance is a natural leader. We know who will win, and who will solve the problems besetting the school--though the solutions are imaginative. These somewhat simplistic plot elements will please a middle grade reader who loves comic book pacing and characterization, but I am not sure would work for a more sophisticated teen reader.

However this is Berryhill's first book, the beginning of a series about Chance Fortune. His wacky ideas, obvious love for the m├ętier of comics, and his flashes of humor show promise.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Thinking About Time: James Valentine, Jumpman Rule 2; Don't Even Think About It!>, (Sidney: Random House, 2003)

In this second book Jules and Genevieve are dragged into the future because someone is messing about with time and breaking the very first rule. "Don't touch anything!"

It turns out that Quincey Carter One is using their old friend Theo Pine Four to cover up Carter's plans to rescue lost things from Earth's past... pizza for one.

Genevieve ends up dumped in the past and although she has to be rescued by Jules, she's gets herself to the position where she can be rescued. Jules and his brain have conversations about being a teenage boy which are delicious in their painfulness. Theo turns into a little less of a brat (but he starts from such a high level that he has a long way to go).

The joys of the book are the construction of a deep future. We only get to see the surface but Valentine continually drops hints that there is so much more out there. I also like the way he handles the tension between a high tech society and the tendency of most of its citizens to be users, not makers. As with the first book, there is also quite a lot of time spent just thinking about the nature of time and time paradoxes.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oisin McGann's Small Minded Giants has just been released (earlier than I was told to expect). My review is here but you could just go buy the book!