The Supernaturalist, Chap. 6: What a Tweest!

This fucking chapter.

Like I said, I devoured this book not long after I got it. I loved the non-stop action, the humor, the characters. But this was the chapter that made me put it down for a couple days. It’s the scene that comes in every movie, where the protagonist is down, and you can’t imagine how they’ll get back up. Where things look so bleak, you can’t imagine how the hero will recover in time to win the day.

I knew, in my fifteen-year-old heart, that good guys win, bad guys lose. I’d also been learning, more and more, that things weren’t as straight forward as that. Good guys win, but it costs them something.

So even though I knew the Supernaturalists would get their happy ending – somehow – this chapter was so frustrating I probably would’ve quit halfway through if it wasn’t so intriguing.

But before we get into that, I want to give Cosmo some credit for his self-awareness:

“Who was he now? Cosmo Hill fugitive no-sponsor,  or Cosmo Hill Supernaturalist? Who was Cosmo Hill anyhow? A product of Clarissa Frayne, with no personality to speak of.”

A big part of Cosmo’s character is that he’s never had a chance to be his own person, and he’s trying to figure it out. The first night he’s running around on rooftops with the group, he asks himself if this is what he wanted, and if he even had a choice.

I wonder if Colfer did this on purpose, or if he never bothered really fleshing out Cosmo’s character and threw in this as the reason why. Thinking back to the one other Eoin Colfer YA novel I’ve read (The Wish List), I don’t think it’s the latter. In fact, this might only be on my mind as something I’m working on in my own writing.

This is because Cosmo and Stefan find out that everything they’ve been doing to save the world is actually making things worse.

While previous chapters have focused on action, this one is all about the plot. It introduces a new character, Ellie Faustino, who was Stefan’s mentor when he trained at the police academy. She’s now president of Myishi’s Research & Development. Faustino can see Parasites as well, and she’s been watching Stefan since he left the police academy to start hunting them. In the conversation Stefan has with her, we learn three very important things:

1. The Satellite, which controls almost all of the city, is becoming dangerously destablizied.

2. After they feed, Parasites expel clean energy from their bodies, causing this destabilization. Or, as Cosmo puts it, the Satellite is losing its links to Earth because of “Parasite poop”.

3. The Parasites are breeding out of control, and it’s all the Supernaturalist’s fault.

Whenever they blast a Parasite, it bursts into bubbles. The bubbles don’t just drift away…they become fully-grown Parasites, ready to siphon life.

This was the twist that made me shut the book in frustration, but it’s nothing compared to how Stefan must have felt. The last three years of his life were dedicated to destroying Parasites. Not only did he fail at that, he made more of them. Things were bad, and Stefan just made them worse. In the words of GLaDOS: “Nice job breaking it, hero.”

What kept Stefan – and me – from falling into despair is a glimmer of hope provided by Faustino, in the form of an EMP bomb, which would kill Parasites for real. All she needs is someone to plant it.  Myishi’s spent years trying to kill Stefan and his squad, and he’s understandably wary about working with a corporation.

“‘Some things we’ve been able to cover up, but word is getting out. Myishi stock is taking a real hammering.’

‘Sick and homeless people don’t care much about stock,’ said Stefan. [. . .]

‘People are dying. It’s a red-light crisis for the corporation.’ 

‘People have been dying in Satellite City for years, and Myishi has done nothing about it. Now, when there’s money involved, suddenly they’re interested.'”

This is what I like, and have always liked, about Stefan. While the angst doesn’t appeal to me so much as an adult, I like that he’s an idealist. Despite the Parasites, despite living in a shitty future, he doesn’t let go of what he believes in. If anything, the hardships he endured make him hold on to his ideals that much more. He knows how harsh Satellite City is, and that things could have been easier for him, had he chosen a different path. His attempts to rid the world of Parasites – however misguided – to me, shows that he cares more about making lives better for others than himself. His obsession with Parasites probably isn’t healthy, but there’s still and admirable quality about it.

When we grow up, we accept certain things as facts of life: big corporations will triumph over the little guy; you face unbeatable odds — why bother fighting?

Stefan knows all this, and he fights anyway.

Be still, my fifteen-year-old heart.

The Supernaturalist, Chap. 5: A Day at the Races

I think a lot of people believe that things will be smaller in the future. Smaller, solar-powered cars, nanotechnology, hell, we can wear tiny tablets on our wrists already. But not in Satellite City. According to this book, sometime in 20XX, we’ll have factories spanning at least five miles, three-story assault tanks, and vehicles with plastic treads and ten wheels. The number of Parasites gathering in Booshka alerts Mona that something big is going to happen, probably during the drag race between the two gangs, the Sweethearts and the Bulldogs.

Mona seems pretty dismissive of her old gang when she talks about them. She’s grateful to Stefan for getting her out, and has no intention of going back. Even so, she still cares about them, saying they’re her old family, and you have to look out for family. Though he doesn’t like the plan, Stefan agrees that they can tail the gang for a couple hours. This is also where Mona’s backstory comes into play. Stefan traded a prototype vehicle, a Myishi Z-twelve, to the Sweethearts, in exchange for Mona joining his team.

“Stefan grinned. ‘I liberated it from the Myishi experimental division. They were testing a couple and one didn’t make the curve. Ran straight into a fuel dump. I followed a swarm of Parasites into the facility and started blasting. The lawyers got a bit close to me, so I took the other car.'”

Is that a metaphorical “didn’t make the curve”, as in, it wasn’t up to standards? More likely, though, it didn’t make a literal curve, hence running into the fuel dump. The phrasing there has always confused me.

When they get to the Krom factory where the races are being held, I have to admire Stefan’s genre savvy-ness. He doesn’t let Mona break up the races, in case that’s what causes the disaster. Sounds like someone’s learned from West Side Story. They break off into two groups, with Mona and Ditto in one, Cosmo and Stefan in another. This is probably my favorite part of the chapter, with the characters just talking to each other. Ditto and Mona’s conversation stands out to me the most, showing the relationship between the two characters. You can tell they’re close by the way they tease each other, with Mona making cracks at his height, and Ditto badgering her about a crush on Cosmo. Mona gets a little too defensive on that point, but then again, she’s also fifteen years old. To me, if you can poke fun at something your friend is sensitive about, and it’s treated as a gesture of fondness, that’s a solid relationship.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for Mona and Ditto to get caught. I love the descriptions of the gang members. They’re so colorful, it’s easy to picture them. Especially the gangster known as “Head Honcho”, named such because he has implanted lights on his body reading just that. This is also where everything gets big. They’re using conveyor belts at an abandoned factory for a drag race–and the “track” is five miles long. Gangs think that the Z-twelve looks “ridiculous”, with only four wheels. Just reading the description of the Z-12 is crazy:

“Generally drag racers fed a nitrous oxide mixture into the regular fuel for that extra burst of speed when it was needed. But this thing actually used heated nitrous oxide as the regular fuel. Because nitrous was used up so quickly, the entire car had been converted into a fuel tank. Every strut and panel was filled with the explosive mixture. Nobody really knew how to drive a car like this.”

The entire thing is rigged to explode, and Mona and Ditto get stuck driving it. Mona decides to use the car to punch through the wall at the end of the race, and here’s another difference from reading it then and reading it now. Fifteen-year-old me couldn’t figure out just why Mona would try to escape, and I thought about how awkward it would be for the Supernaturalists to blast Parasites after she and Ditto had gone. By now I’ve figured out that she had no intention of going back, proving once and for all that I was an idiot when I was younger.

Now, here’s where I start noticing previously unnoticed plot holes. Losing a car like this was huge for Myishi, and Stefan hypothesizes that the reason Myishi hasn’t taken it back yet is because the Sweethearts kept the car under a lead sheet so that it couldn’t be traced. But if this car was so valuable, why wasn’t the company able to get it back when Stefan stole it in the first place? Especially in this chapter, where they pull out all the stops. The lawyers from earlier chapters sounded bad, but they’re nothing compares to the paralegals:

 

“Paralegals were a three-way cross between layers, para-troopers, and pit bulls.”

Shit. When I think of paralegals, I remember this annoying as hell commercial that came on every time I watched WB Kids. That ad is a staple of my childhood, along with the ubiquitous Sears air conditioning commercial. I could recite that commercial.

But I think this is the first chapter we see Cosmo’s character really start to come out. Instead of going back to the Supernaturalists’ vehicle, the Pigmobile, like he’s told, he follows Stefan into the chaos. Stefan calls Cosmo “pigheaded” for this, but he’s happy to have Cosmo with him. The two incurr a significant amount of damage on the Myishi paralegals, and a three-story assault tank. Yes, three storyes. Because everything is bigger in the future. Cosmo’s showing guts, ad a desire to really be part of the group. He has to prove himself to Stefan, but also to himself.

This is another chapter with a lot of action, made even more exciting because all the main characters are in signicant danger, and its telling that they all put themselves in that position to help others. Mona and Ditto managed to get away; Cosmo and Stefan aren’t so lucky.

Writing action scenes is pretty challenging, at least, I’ve always thought so. For the most part, Colfer does it well. This might be because this isn’t the first time (or even the second) I’ve read this book, but this time around, the prose just seems so matter-of-fact. It keep up the fast pace, though, and it’s easy to stay interested, but it doesn’t give me vibrant visuals. This was the longest chapter so far, but also the most revealing for Cosmo’s character.

The Supernaturalist, Chap. 4: Cringe-Worthy Cosmo

I love the beginning of this chapter. After a long night of blasting Parasites, the heroes return to their warehouse base to eat and rest for their next escapade. And Cosmo does something that we’ve all done before: 

“‘I thought we did okay tonight,’ he said. ‘No one got hurt, and we blasted a hundred of those creatures.'”

Cosmo, it’s your first night out. How do you even know what a good night is for them?

“Stefan threw down his army-issue spoon. ‘And tomorrow there’ll be two hundred to take their place.’

Cosmo finished his food in silence, chewing slowly. “You know what I think?”

Stefan leaned back in his chair, arms crossed.  ‘No, Cosmo–what do you think?'”

Cosmo, no. Cosmo, stop.

“‘I think that if we could find out where they lived, then we could do some real damage.’

Stefan laughed sharply, rubbing his face with both hands. ‘For nearly three years I’ve been doing this, and I never thought of that. Wow, you must be some kind of genius, Cosmo. Find out where they live. Amazing.'”

There you go, gentle readers. Your daily cringe. Something like this has happened to me more times than I can count. I think it’s most likely to happen when you’re the new guy, but even moreso when you’re the new guy who doesn’t want to be the new guy. You give a suggestion to prove that you’re competent, and it’s immediately rejected. It’s even worse when they make you feel like an idiot.

This chapter is also the first without a lot of action in it. No rooftop falls, no sick teenagers, no Parasite blasting. I’m not complaining, though. The book’s moved at a breakneck pace so far, and now the characters – and the reader – get a breather.

That doesn’t mean it’s not interesting. Along with seeing what Satellite City looks like during the daytime, we also learn more about Mona. It’s been all but outright stated that she was in a gang, and it’s confirmed when she and Cosmo go to her home turf of “Booshka”, named after the slang term for car theft.

I think it’s a little funny how audiences respond to scoundrels. I’ve always liked roguish characters. I’ve written plenty of stories (of varying quality) with a criminal as the star, and like to play the less than law abiding characters in roleplaying games. We cheered when the crew of Serenity stole medical supplies from a hospital in Firefly, but look at it from a different perspective: a bunch of freelancers, with a history of breaking the law, robbed a hospital. Whatever the context, however quickly the hospital could be resupplied, if someone robbed a hospital in real life, we would not be so forgiving.

That’s just one of the things I love about fiction. People we would hate in real life become the ones we cheer for in books and movies.

I bring this up because real life gangs are violent and frightening, and Mona’s old gang, The Sweethearts, seems more along the lines of West Side Story than Sons of Anarchy. They’re not about smuggling drugs or guns, they’re about illegal drag racing.

Now that I’m (in theory) a grown-up with a better understanding of the world, I’d say that’s not so bad. Much better than drug smuggling, at any rate. Reading this now, it seems pretty light, but this book was also written for teenagers. You can argue all day about what is and isn’t appropriate for kids to be exposed to, but I’m glad that it didn’t get much darker than this when it came to the gangs. They play a relatively small role in the overall novel, and a more realistic version may very well have scared the shit out of me.

Even so, I enjoyed Mona’s description of the other gangs in the area.

“‘Those are the Irish I’s. They specialize in truckjacking from the docks across the bridge. [. . .] Those tall guys are the Zools. Body guards mostly, they all learn some kind of African martial arts. One of those guys throws something sharp at you, and it’s all over.  [. . .] Those men with the piercings are the Bulldogs. They can strip a bike down in seconds. You turn away to tie your bootlace, and when you come back, your bike is just a skeleton.'”

I like the variety, but these descriptions, and other small details in the narrative, really flesh out Satellite City.

When she was a Sweetheart, Mona was the gang’s mechanic. The girl mechanic trope isn’t exactly an original concept at this point, but it’s one I’ve always liked. I like being handy when I can, and it’s good to know what to do when your toilet breaks and you can’t call your dad for help. That said, I rarely figure out things like that without guidance, and at this point I’m much more likely to pay someone to fix things for me than do it myself. Maybe the reason I like this archetype so much is because it’s what I’m not. Hell, maybe that’s the reason I like criminal characters, too.

I keep looking for more of Cosmo’s character to stand out, and it’s finally starting to. At least, his timidity is showing. As he and Mona walk through Booshka to get parts for the Supernaturalist’s vehicle, he shrinks, stares at the ground, trying to make himself small and invisible. Mona, on the other hand, tells him that he needs to walk tall, or the gangs will eat him alive.

C’mon, Cosmo, I know you can do better than that.

The Supernaturalist, Chap. 3: Blowing Bubbles

When I was in high school, my dream was to become an author. I would stay up late writing, and I would read author’s websites, and blogs written by people trying so damn hard to get published. I guess it’s still my dream, but I’ve also learned that you can’t live on the written word. Sooner or later, we all have to grow up and get real jobs. Despite what my younger self might think, being a grown-up isn’t all that bad. In fact, it can be pretty fun. Sure, I don’t have as much free time as I used to, and I have more responsibilities, but I also have money and more freedom. I want to go visit my friends in New Jersey for a weekend? Sure, I can just hop in my car and do that. But it’s really all a trade-off.

But I’ve gotten off track now. Point being, I used to read a lot about how to get published, and I learned that your first three chapters have to be really strong. I used to worry that the opening chapters of my cliché fantasy story wouldn’t stand up to editor scrutiny, especially because the plot didn’t really kick off until the third chapter.

Of course, rereading my old work now, I can guarantee that no publisher in their right mind would pick up my various novels.

 

I’m not a publisher of any kind, but I daresay that this book wouldn’t have any trouble catching interest in the first three chapters. Like I mentioned before, action in The Supernatrualist is continuous. Even when things slow down and there’s no Parasite-blasting, there’s always something happening. 


With the magic of science fiction (shut up, that phrase totally makes sense!), Cosmo and Mona have recovered enough to go Parasite hunting. In the past two chapters I’ve talked about how Colfer mainly uses the narration to explain the world, but this chapter uses dialogue more frequently. Not only is Cosmo the new guy on the team, but he’s also spent his entire life in an orphanage. This means that he’s a great “Straight Man” character. 

When you’re writing sci-fi or fantasy, you need a way to explain the “rules” of the universe to the audience. Up to this point, Colfer has mainly put those explanations in the narration. In the first chapter, for example, Redwood threatens to “wrap” the escaping Cosmo and Ziplock, and the following paragraph explains that “wrap” means to “shrink wrap” someone, or coat them in a layer of plastic so they can’t move. In this chapter, the other three main characters have to teach Cosmo about the equipment they’re using, and what sort of crisis they’re running into. It’s his first day on the job, and he’s got a lot to learn.

“Mona explained to Cosmo while strapping an extendable bridge on his back. ‘The Big Pig is a twenty-four hour city, so factories revolve their buildings just as they revolve their shifts. Everybody gets eight hours quiet and eight hours south facing. For the other eight, you’re working, so you don’t care where your apartment is. The Satellite tried to squeeze two apartments into one space. Nasty.’

Cosmo shuddered. The Satellite had messed up again. This was becoming a regular occurrence.” 

There. We’ve just learned about the technology the Supernaturalists are using, and a little bit about the world, too. If it isn’t obvious now, I much prefer when information is presented to the reader through dialogue, but adding Cosmo’s thoughts on the matter also works well. It makes the story flow better, I think, and doesn’t take the reader out of the world.

Colfer also gives us more information about the universe in this chapter. Most of this doesn’t get expanded upon later in the novel, but it helps flesh out the world itself.

“Diplomatic immunity had become more or less redundant since the One World treaty, but there was still the odd remote republic that held on to its rights.”

One World treaty? I would probably read a novel based on just that.

Cosmo’s first night out with the group is pretty action packed. They swoop into one of the apartments and blast Parasites, which burst into blue bubbles when the jolt of energy from the lightning rod hits them. Like the rest of the book, this chapter is fast-paced, and Cosmo’s doing the best he can to keep up. It’s a fun chapter that explains a lot of the technology the Supernaturalists use, like collapsible bridges to navigate across gaps in rooftops and “gumballs”, a nonlethal but nasty goop that can also be used with the lightning rods.

Mona hits the Parasites with deadly accuracy, Stefan kills them obsessively, and Ditto heals wounded victims. Cosmo, on the other hand, isn’t so sure about all this. The first time he takes aim at a Parasite, he can’t bring himself to shoot at it. When he sees a group of them sucking life energy out of injured people, he realizes – or, perhaps, remembers – what monsters they are, and is finally able to start blasting them.

The Supernaturalists attract a fair amount of attention, bursting in, shooting at apparently nothing, and then fleeing as soon as the lawyers arrive. Lawyers might not sound so bad, until you realize that these guys don’t carry brief cases; they carry lightning rods and rappelling rigs. Atticus Finch they ain’t. Their job is to make sure the victims at the scene sign waivers, and make sure no one gets away from the scene. There’s a delightful exchange between our heroes and a pair of lawyers, which ends with the lawyers getting hit with the aforementioned gumballs after Stefan distracts them. And then they’re off to the next crisis.

In every action movie I’ve ever watched, the explosions don’t start right away. It starts with the hero – usually some divorced, tough dad with a son who hates him – in his every day life. Going to work, getting a beer with friends, trying to get your kids to love you again. Then the aliens come, or the daughter gets kidnapped, and that’s when shooting and throat-punching begins. Between Cosmo falling off the roof and Mona’s nearly fatal illness, we haven’t actually seen a normal day for this motley crew until this chapter.

Going out to emergencies and blasting Parasites, it turns out, is a normal day.  The rest of the novel can’t be like this, or it would get pretty boring. This chapter was really laid out to show what their day-to-day (or, rather, night-to-night) life is like. Which tells me that the novel is going to change from here on out.

One thing that kind of annoys me is that Cosmo’s not very defined as a character. It kind of makes sense, because he spent his whole life in an orphanage, and is out in the real world for the first time in his life. In the previous chapter, Cosmo even notes that the only thing he ever wanted was to get out of Clarissa Frayne, and now that he’s done that, he doesn’t know what he wants. He showed more personality when he hesitated killing the Parasites, but he’s just not that well of a defined character. 

Following Mr. Plinkett’s memorable characters test: describe a character without mentioning their appearance, occupation, or role within the story.

Stefan: Tall, dark, and brooding. He’s a natural leader, dedicated to his goal, loves and misses his mother, obsessive when it comes to hunting Parasites.

Mona: Street-wise, quick to act, but also sassy. We know she has a soft spot at Stefan’s mention of her always wanting to take in strays.

Ditto: Pacifist, humorous, alturistic, compassionate, and left his well-paying hospital job to work with Stefan. To him, helping people is more important than getting paid.

Cosmo: Hates Clarissa Frayne, isn’t sure what to do now that he’s out and…uh…

Well.  The good news is that it’s still early in the book, and Cosmo has time to develop his character. That is the point of main characters, after all. They change. 

I’ll just leave you with one last quote, and if this doesn’t explain why fifteen-year-old me though Stefan was sexy as hell, nothing will:

“Stefan would be a big hit with the girls, if he ever stopped working long enough to bring one out on a date. He had all the right ingredients. Tall, dark, handsome in a beaten-up-once-too-often way. But Mona knew that Stefan did not have time for himself, let alone anyone else. He only had time for the Parasites.”

Damn. 

The Supernaturalist Chap. 2: Welcome to the World of Tomorrow!

There must be something wrong with me, because I was a little disappointed that Cosmo got out of the orphanage so quickly. I’ve always liked “institution” settings, be it a school for wizards, or a training camp to turn you into a secret agent. On the other hand, if he didn’t get out at the end of the first chapter, I’m sure I’d be impatiently waiting for him to get out. You can only read about chemical tests for so long before it stops being interesting.

It’s the same with Cosmo’s recovery. He took some major damage when he fell off the rooftop and onto the generator, which Mona – the token girl – explains to Cosmo when he wakes up. He had to get his knee replaced, and his skull patched up with a “robotix plate” that Ditto happened to have around. Why the team medic had robotix plates that are used to armor assault tanks lying around is a question that never gets answered. Plus there were various stitches, bruises, and staples to deal with. Cosmo’s on painkillers and sleeping through the first couple pages of this chapter, but he still heals up from all that remarkably quickly. A lot of it is explained away in the technology used for healing, like a “plexi-cast” that reduces swelling and somehow (magic?) repaired Cosmo’s leg in something like twenty-four hours. He has trouble walking for a bit, but for the most part, the worst pain he feels is in his head. The rapid recovery shakes my suspension of disbelief a bit, because the only real explanation given is, “it’s the future!” Of course, if the rest of the book was just Cosmo lying in bed, it would be pretty boring. I just think that it should have taken him longer to heal up.

Even so, the action doesn’t let up when the three strangers – Stefan, Ditto, and an incredibly ill Mona – burst into the room. That’s one thing I always liked about this book. There’s no part in it that’s boring. Okay, it’s not all explosions and psychotic marshals, but even when it slows down, it’s interesting. When Cosmo wakes up for the first time, for example, Mona gives him a rundown of his injuries and exactly what Ditto had to do to patch him up. That might sound dull, but even the explanation of the technology used to patch him up is different, and it helps worldbuild.

Speaking of, there’s a lot of worldbuilding done in just the scene when Cosmo’s rescuers come in. I like that it’s not as direct in the first chapter, and has been done a bit more through dialogue. It’s not without its flaws, though:

“‘Close the curtains!’ he shouted.

Cosmo pointed at the react-to-light control panel beside a window. ‘But the glass. Why don’t I just adjust…?’

‘Because the police birds see right through react-to-light. That’s why it comes with the building. Get it?'”

It seems to me shutting the curtains would be a lot quicker.

For the most part, I think it’s a pretty good exchange, and gives you some good information about the world. I don’t think the dialogue sounds all that natural, though, especially considering the characters are in an emergency situation. I think it would make more sense for Cosmo to just do as he’s told here, but it is some good exposition.

It’s revealed that Mona is ill because she got hit with a technically non-lethal dart that law enforcement can use, though it’s only non-lethal as long as whoever gets hit by it sticks around long enough for the antidote. Cosmo comes to the rescue, as he’s able to recognize Mona’s symptoms, as those darts had been tested on the orphans at Clarissa Frayne.

I take it back. I’m glad Cosmo didn’t stick around the orphanage any longer than he did.

He remembers that when the “creeper slugs”, as they were called, were tested on the orphans, a moldy sandwich made one of them feel better. Ditto suddenly understands what’s going on, and explains it in technobabble.

“Of course. This is is a flora virus. Cellulose would shut it down.”

That’s another line I didn’t think twice about when I read this as a kid.  Now, I have to wonder how that even makes sense. Whatever, I’ll roll with it. With Cosmo’s knowledge and some chewed up flowers, the group saves Mona and sends her to her bunk to recover. Ditto and Stefan then take some time to properly introduce themselves, and their mission, to Cosmo.

The group: Stefan, Mona, Ditto, and now Cosmo, call themselves the Supernaturalists. They have the ability to see strange blue creatures that no one else can, which they call Parasites. The Parasites are invisible to most people. After a lifetime of living under the smog in Satellite City and a near-death experience, some people, usually kids, are able to see Parasites.

“‘The sight usually comes after a near-death experience, and I think what happed to you qualifies as a near-death experience.’

‘About as near as you can get,’ added Ditto, rapping the plate in Cosmo’s head.” 

Not cool, Ditto. That probably hurt.

The Parasites are aptly named, as they suck life force. They used to only go to people who were dying, but in the past year their population has exploded, and they’ll swoop down on almost anyone with an injury. The Supernaturalists have two weapons against them. First, Parasites don’t like water, and will avoid it as much as possible. Since they also feed on energy, the Supernaturalists shoot electricity at them with “lightning rods”. The charges are small enough that they wouldn’t injure a person, but it destroys parasites. From day to day, the Supernaturalists monitor disasters and rush to them to fight Parasites. This causes plenty of problems for the motley crew, because you can’t just expect to run into a dangerous situation, fire at apparently nothing, and not expect any consequences.

“‘We observe Satellite sites, waiting for disasters.’ 

‘What, you hack the state police site?’ 

Ditto chuckled. ‘The state police site? No, thank you. We’re in too much of a hurry to wait around for the police. We hack the law firms.'”

And that’s how you know it’s cyberpunk.

Now that we know who the enemies are, let’s look at the heroes of this story.

We’ll start with Ditto. He looks like a child, but is actually twenty-eight years old. Ditto’s a Bartolli Baby, part of a genetics experiment as an infant conducted to make super humans. Most of the babies had arrested physical development, but some, like Ditto, gained certain side-effects. Ditto is highly intelligent, and was a doctor before joining the Supernaturalists. His ability to see Parasites is another Bartolli side-effects. He also doesn’t shoot Parasites, but goes in as a medic to help people that have been injured during disasters.

I don’t know what it is–maybe too much time spent reading shojo manga–but I’ve always had a thing for angsty young men. Until I tried dating one, that is. Protip: leave your crushes on brooding guys and bad boys where they belong–in fiction.

Still, this description of Stefan sent my teenage hormones into overdrive:

“He was a charismatic figure, about eighteen, with haunted features. His jet-black hair stood in unruly spikes, and a pink scar stretched from the corner of his mouth, giving the impression of an impish grin, an impression that did not match the pain in his eyes. Eyes that were probably blue, but to Cosmo seemed blacker than outer space. It was obvious that Stefan was the leader of this little group. It was in his nature. The way he slouched in his char, the way Ditto automatically turned to him…”

It’s not exactly a stretch of the imagination to figure out what happened to Stefan: his mother died, and the Parasites had something to do with it. This is confirmed by the end of the chapter, when he goes to the crematorium to visit his mother’s ashes. We don’t have the full story yet, but it’s pretty obvious what happened. I don’t think Stefan really sees fighting Parasites as revenge on them for taking his mother, but rather, a way for him to protect others. It’s made clear right away that Stefan is the real leader in this group, even though he’s about ten years younger than Ditto.

Mona is, as TV Tropes would put it, the Wrench Wench. It’s a trope that I’ve seen more and more lately, but one I’ve always liked. She’s the group’s mechanic, and was involved in street gangs at some point before joining the Supernaturalists. And, without getting all Social Justice Warrior here, Mona is the only person of color in the group, and (if I recall correctly) of the main characters. This is something that I didn’t notice or even think about when I first read the book. I could talk about privilege or white washing or a number of topics, but there are plenty of other blogs dedicated to just that. I want to focus on the writing.

One of the reasons this caught my attention was that Mona was the only character whose race was described. I’m currently working on a story where the majority of the setting’s population are multi-racial, and I’m trying to find the best way to express this. I’m not great at describing characters’ physical appearances, and I’ve found describing skin tone challenging. I’ve read enough descriptions of characters with “caramel” or “cinnamon” skin, but I’ve also read enough complaints that terms like that exocticise POC. I’ve also noticed that if you don’t specify a race or skin tone, readers are likely to picture that character as White. Colfer just said that Mona is Latina, and left it there. I don’t think that’s a bad way of doing it.

But what do I know? I’m just a middle-class White girl who needs to check her privilege.

 

 

The Supernaturalist Chap. 1: Cosmonaut Hill

It’s time to take a break from manga for the time being, and move on to books that have more words than pictures.

This time, our trip down memory lane will take us into the future, with The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer. Colfer’s probably most known for the Artemis Fowl series, though he did write several stand-alone novels (and adult novels now!) I never got into the Artemis Fowl books, but have enjoyed Colfer’s other works. I first read The Supernaturalist when I was fifteen, and remember enjoying it a lot. It’s not typical of what you would normally think of Colfer’s books, in that it’s science-fiction. No faeries, no demons and angels, but a lot of cool technology. That’s not to say that it’s without its otherworldly creatures–this is Eoin Colfer we’re talking about, after all.

And before I go any further, I want to point out that “Eoin” is pronounced “Owen”. This is because Gaelic makes no sense.

The introduction to the book, the main character, and the world itself are very direct. It starts with a baby, abandoned in Satellite City, where the book takes place. The baby (named Cosmo Hill, as he was found on Cosmonaut Hill) is sent to Clarissa Frayne Institute for Parentally Challenged Boys, the kind of orphanage that Miss Hannigan would be proud to run. Clarissa Frayne makes all its money through product testing. That is, the boys they take in become test subjects for various companies. Just in the introduction, we’re told that Cosmo’s “teeth were white than white, and his hair was lustrous and flake-free; but his insides felt like they were being scored with a radioactive wire brush.” It’s quickly established that the life expectancy for an orphan at Clarissa Frayne is fifteen years old. Fourteen-year-old Cosmo knows that he’s running out of time, and is determined to escape.

This is all told to use within the first seven paragraphs of the book.

Normally, I wouldn’t like an introduction like this. There’s no dialogue, no action, just facts about the world and the main character. However, I have been reading Neuromancer by William Gibson lately, and Gibson doesn’t explain anything. It’s fine to leave your characters in the dark, and it’s fine to withhold information from the audience. However, you shouldn’t withhold so much information that the reader doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Like whether your characters are on a space station or on Earth. Really, Gibson, it’s not that hard. Just say they’re on a fucking space station already, so I don’t have to keep guessing.

But I digress.

After the introduction to the main character and the setting, we finally get to see what Cosmo’s life is like at the orphanage. Even though The Supernaturalist doesn’t sport the matrix, hackers, or AI, I would still say that it’s a cyberpunk novel. It has many staples of the genre: high-tech, low life; the heroes are criminals and outcasts; powerful corporations; Earth a decade or so into the future, and that future is terrible. This book was my introduction to cyberpunk, which I enjoy a lot.

Cosmo’s day-in, day-out routine isn’t easy, especially since he’s a human guinea pig. The orphans are rounded up, put through whatever product testing needs to be done for the day, then get sent back to their “dorm” to rest for the night. I bring up the dorm specifically because it was something that really confused me when I first read this book.

“The rooms were actually sections of cardboard utility pipe that had been sawed into six-foot lengths. The pipes were suspended from a network of wires almost fifty feet off the ground. Once the pipes were occupied by orphans, the entire contraption swayed like an ocean liner.”

This setup was something I found nearly impossible to picture as a teenager. I think it was “pipes” that threw me off. I can visualize it better now, but don’t really see how something – pipes and wires holding who knows how many kids – could be stable. Even though it’s made clear from the start that Clarissa Frayne doesn’t really care about the well-being of its “no-sponsors”, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t want the whole thing to collapse.

I also want to know what they do with babies that come into the Institute. I imagine there’s some kind of nursery, but when do they decide that the kids are old enough to be product testers? Or are they given experimental formula right from the get-go? Considering the way these kids are treated, I’m guessing it’s the latter.

We actually don’t see too much of Clarissa Frayne in this first chapter, because most of the real action starts when the orphans are being transported back to the institute. I also like how Colfer fits in little details about the world without being too overt about it. For example, when Cosmo takes a survey, it’s a “sixty-kilobyte questionnaire” and he ticks off answers with a “digi-pen”. It’s a small detail, but it tells you that this setting is influenced heavily by electronics. This only gets reinforced when we learn about the Satellite. The Satellite runs almost everything in the city (Appropriately, called Satellite City, nicknamed “The Big Pig”), including the vehicles. When the bus Cosmo’s in loses its link to the Satellite,  the driver doesn’t even know how to control it manually using the steering wheel. While it begs the question, “why have a driver in the first place?” this event kicks off Cosmo’s escape.

The bus gets slammed onto its side by other vehicles that are still linked to the Satellite, making them essentially on autopilot. After a collision leaves on its side, most of the adults – the marshals – are badly injured and out for the count. Mostly. There are only two marshals that are given names and Redwood is one of them. Not only is he wholly unpleasant, he’s sadistic and has no problem choking one of his charges, who happens to be cuffed to Cosmo. Redwood actually lets Cosmo and Ziplock get off the bus and make a break for the city. Unbeknownst to them, they’re still being tracked, and all Redwood has to do is follow their tracker patterns to get to the kids, which gives us this exchange:

“Redwood keyed the talk button on his communicator. ‘Fred. Send the Hill C and Murphy F tracker patterns to my handset.’


Fred cleared his throat into the mike. ‘Uh…the tracker patterns?’


Redwood ground his teeth. ‘Dammit, Fred, is Bruce there? Put Bruce on.'”


It goes on for a couple more paragraphs, with Redwood having to explain step-by-step how to email those tracker patterns. This could have been done to explain to the reader how it works, or as a way to give Cosmo and his cuffed partner more time. It didn’t really seem important to me when I first read the book, but now I love it.

Wherever you work, you will always have the one idiot coworker who doesn’t know what they’re doing. If you’re lucky, they’ll also make your job difficult due to their incompetence. And if you’re really lucky, like me, you will be the one person in the entire office that everyone comes to when they have IT problems. Then they act like you’re a wizard when you fix it, but all you’ve done is Google the solution.

Or maybe that’s just me. Anyway, I appreciate that even in the future, there will still be idiots who don’t know how to do their jobs.

Redwood catches up to the boys on a rooftop, and he grabs Ziplock’s jumpsuit at the edge of the roof to try to take him back. The jumpsuit rips, however, sending Ziplock and Cosmo over the edge, and landing on a generator. Both receive a huge electrical shock and get blown off the roof. Ziplock dies, Cosmo is badly hurt. He sees strange blue creatures land on him, and they seem to be sucking away his life force. He is rescued by three strangers who are reluctant to take Cosmo with them, until he starts talking about the blue creatures.

The story itself has a few good twists that really keep the plot moving, and there’s a lot of foreshadowing when Cosmo meets the group. On one hand, it makes me feel smart that I can recognize the plot points before they become plot points, but on the other, it makes me cringe a little bit. Not because it’s too clunky or poorly written, but because a lot of trouble could have been avoided by one character speaking up sooner.

Reading this now, the exposition does bother me a little bit. In a sci-fi or fantasy setting, I much prefer information being gradually revealed, usually through characters telling the new guy what’s going on. It’s needed in this chapter, though, with Cosmo and Ziplock already being familiar with the “rules” of the universe they live in. I much prefer it to having no information, at any rate. There were also a couple things I noticed that I didn’t when I first read this book. The first chapter seems much darker to me, for a start. A kid gets killed, Redwood only gives them the chance to escape so he has an excuse to punish them; Ziplock, specifically, because he’s the one who’s always mouthing off at Redwood. It’s kind of disturbing how the adults are so casual about using the kids as test subjects.

There’s also Ziplock’s death. Reading this as an adult and well past the age of the protagonists, it seems much sadder to me that he died so young. When you’re fifteen, anything over eighteen years old seems old. Turning twenty seems like it’s a million years away. So, fourteen years seems like a decent amount of time. As an adult and twentysomething, I can see that it is much to short of a time to live.

Rave Master Chap. 13: It MUST be a Glass Ceiling

This is it. We’ve finally come to the last chapter of the second volume of Rave Master, lucky number 13. It moves fast, and there’s not a lot of plot to talk about here. The chapter begins with Musica #2 facing off against Lance.

Lance’s sword is able to create illusions of beasts when he swings it. He uses the illusions to distract Musica, and then go in to attack. After his first attack, things get a little stupid.

First, Lance stops the battle because Elie’s time is up. That is, the deadline for Haru to arrive with Rave is past. Wounded Musica doesn’t try to stop him, other than yelling at him. Elie, doesn’t move, even though she was cut loose and her legs function absolutely fine.

Seriously. She doesn’t even attempt to escape. She doesn’t get up, doesn’t run, just sits there and screams Haru’s name. I know that she’s scared, and that Haru was supposed to save her, but I don’t think my last word would be my rescuer’s name, especially when that rescuer doesn’t show up in time. My last words are much more likely to be “Fuck you!” or “This is a cool way to die!”

Fortunately, Haru comes bursting onto the scene…through the ceiling.

This is something I thought was awesome as a kid, and ridiculous as an adult. It just leaves me with so many questions:

  • How did Haru get up to the roof in the first place?
  • Musica already cleared the yard of guards, why didn’t he just go through the front door?
  • Lance essentially invited Haru to come and bring him Rave, so shouldn’t the goons be expecting him and just let him through?
  • How many floors does this place have?
  • How thick is that roof, that a sixteen-year-old kid can break through?
  • Shouldn’t Haru have some kind of injury from falling through the ceiling?
  • Why the ceiling?
  • Should I give up trying to apply logic to this universe?

Musica warns Haru about Lance’s tactic, but Haru already knows. Musica the Blacksmith taught him secret of Lance’s sword: that it can only make illusions when it does a full swing. By blocking his attack, Haru is able to prevent him from creating any distracting illusions. Just when it looks like Haru has the advantage, Lance creates another illusion, this time without swinging his sword…

And that’s it. That’s the end of volume 2.

Re-reading this, I remember why I loved the series when I was younger, but I also understand why my slightly older sister said that it was dumb. The Rave Master universe is a weird, goofy place, but it’s also filled with villains that don’t fit the light-heartedness in the background. One chapter is about saving dogs, another chapter is about a man’s family getting massacred. I think the biggest problem I have is that the darker problems get solved too easily, like Musica the Blacksmith suddenly giving up alcohol after meeting Haru. This time around, I thought Haru was dumb, rather than heroic, but I think that idealism is a big part of his character. The villains weren’t very interesting, and Georco was more annoying than threatening.

Even so, it was fun to read through again.

Final Verdict: For Sale

Even though I bought it more than ten years ago, the book itself is in pretty good shape. Rave Master is an entertaining series, and I’m sure some other young otaku will enjoy it.

Next, I’ll be reviewing a high school favorite of mine: The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer. Stick around!