The Supernaturalist Chap. 9-10: Goodbye from the World of Tomorrow!

I’ve decided to combine this post to include the final chapters of this book, because Chapter 10 is about four pages long. Chapter 9, though, is another one that could have been broken up into at least two, if you ask me. It’s pretty long, probably the longest in the book. And, boy, does it sting.

It’s a pretty common trope for villains to stand in front of the protagonists, explain their plan, and then walk away, certain that our dashing heroes are going to die in whatever death trap that’s been laid out for them. It’s also widely acknowledged that this is a pretty dumb thing to do. That, and I feel like it’s cheating. Suddenly the book (or movie, as the case often is) has to come to an end, and you haven’t figured out a way to explain to the heroes what’s really going on. Or, in this case,  you need to drop one last bombshell on the characters,  and have no way of doing it other than by some good old-fashioned monologuing.

All that said, I’m not entirely against the “now that I’ve captured you, let me explain my heinous plan” speech. The audience gets information, you have an “ah-ha!” moment, and then the heroes get to save the day, equipped with new knowledge. What bothers me about it here is that it’s Ellie Faustino giving them the speech, though the only person who’s surprised she’s behind this is Stefan. Faustino is too smart and too thorough of a character to tell the Supernaturalists her plans and motives, but does anyway. She even adds a little bit of extra information, just to hurt Stefan. Then she leaves them in a vat of acid to drown. That last sentence makes sense if you’re reading the book, I swear. What makes the villain monologue even worse is that she does it for the dumbest reason:

There are two more things you should know, just to punish you for slowing down my plan.

Really? Killing him wasn’t punishment enough?

Worst of all, Faustino could have had them killed then and there, but she decided “slow death by acid” was the better way to go. Even though she had a sniper, just in the other room, who could have shot them all and saved her some time and pain. Once she leaves, the group breaks out, equipped with new knowledge and…hang on a second, this sounds familiar.

Faustino confirms that the Parasites are benevolent and only feed on pain, that the “Parasite poop” mentioned earlier wasn’t causing the damage to the Satellite, and that Stefan’s accident that also killed his mother was set up by Faustino as an experiment. Ouch.

And I will give her credit for just one thing here: she actually didn’t reveal her entire plan. Once the protagonists escape, they uncover the reason Faustino was so interested in the Parasites in the first place. She’s using the ones Cosmo an Stefan knocked out at Clarissa Frayne (which didn’t die after all) to power a nuclear generator.

Another difference between reading this as a kid and reading this now: relying on nuclear power doesn’t seem that awful to me right now. Sure, it’s not without its own issues, like what to do with all that spent uranium, but I also don’t think that using nuclear power is going to end the world as we know it. But I first read this in 2005, when “weapons of mass destruction” was a pretty common buzzword. Nuclear (or “nuke-you-lur”, as was the pronunciation at the time) anything was associated with weapons and destruction in my mind back then.

I’m also not sure how it’s a nuclear generator if it’s powered by Parasites.

As you might have suspected, they beat Faustino, but the Supernaturalists all take a hit. Stefan gets shot by the sniper that Faustino should have used much earlier in the chapter, and ends up dying to free the Parasites trapped in the generator. Such ends our penultimate chapter.

Somehow, even as a kid, I knew that he wouldn’t survive to see the end of the novel. And even as an adult, Stefan’s death still makes me sad.

One thing I didn’t really think about until I re-read this was the story’s main character. I’d always assumed that the title referred to Cosmo. He’s the first character we meet, we follow the story from his perspective, and we can see that he changes from a meek kid to a pretty gutsy one. But this isn’t his story. It’s Stefan’s. Even at the end of the novel, Cosmo’s character isn’t well-defined, but Stefan’s always has been. He was the leader, and he was the one that pushed his group to fight. When another twist came along – and there were plenty along the way – he was directly involved in all of them. Looking at it now, it almost feels like Cosmo is a vehicle to tell Stefan’s story, rather than his own. I wonder if this was Colfer’s intention, or just something that ended up happening.

The final chapter is pretty brief, more like an epilogue, if epilogues were full of nothing but sequel hooks. We learn that Faustino has survived and will carry on her work anonymously elsewhere, and also that there are other supernatural creatures that Ditto sees, a lot worse than Parasites, and that he, Mona, and Cosmo, should rebuild and do something about them.

But it’s been more than ten years since this book first came out, and I have yet to see a sequel. Which is pretty damn disappointing, if you ask me, because I would buy that so fast.

Final Verdict: Keep/Give Away

Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t sell this as a book. I loved it in high school and read it so many times my copy’s pretty battered. Reading it again, I found it a delightful adventure, fast-paced, full of action and humor to keep the story interesting. The only reason I wouldn’t keep this book is because I have a fourteen-year-old cousin who would probably love it as much as I (still) do, and I may hand it down to him. Or possibly find him a copy that isn’t so beaten up.

Coming up next: the over-the-top manhwa Snow Drop!

The Supernaturalist, Chap. 8: But Wait, There’s More!

This is the one. The one we’ve been waiting for since Cosmo first escaped the orphanage and joined the Supernaturalists. After all the twists and turns in this adventure so far, it’s all about to come to a head. The gang has located the Parasites’ nest, and it just happens to be in the basement of Clarissa Frayne, the place that Cosmo spent most of his life trying to get away from. He does consider, briefly, not returning with Stefan to plant the EMP, but the thought doesn’t last long. After almost floating off through space for all eternity, he’s unquestionably one of the group now, no longer an outsider.

The two get inside Clarissa Frayne easily enough, and sneak down to the basement with no problem. For once, things are going their way. However, the tracking beads in Cosmo’s skin haven’t entirely shorted out, and his faint pattern alerts our favorite marshal, Redwood, that someone’s sneaking around. Someone who’s supposed to be dead, and who Redwood would love to catch. After the crash in the first chapter, he was demoted to security guard, which sees him watching CCTV for most of the day, alongside his idiot coworker.

We don’t know too much about Redwood, but we know that he’s not dumb, and is pretty sadistic. We also know that he’s probably married, as he mentions someone named “Agnes” a few times. Even though we don’t know anything about her, it’s probably a fair guess to say that he’s not as cruel to his wife as he is to the orphans. Redwood’s not a particularly deep character — really, just a one-shot villain, but I’ve suddenly found myself more intrigued by him than ever before, and it was this line that piqued my curiosity:

He needed to get back on the streets, where he had some real power.

By “the streets”, he means becoming a floor marshal again, and dealing with the orphans directly. It’s already been established that Redwood doesn’t think of the orphans as people, which isn’t all that surprising. My question is just why Redwood is so sadistic. I figure that he’s a monster to the orphans because they can’t fight back, at least, not without serious repercussions. He’s cowardly in that regard, no matter how tough and frightening he thinks he is. I just want to know why he’s wired this way, we he won’t pick on someone his own size. What does he get out of tormenting these orphans?

It’s a pretty pointless question to ask, especially at this point in the book. Like I just said, Redwood is a one-shot villain, whose point in the story is to menace Cosmo. That’s really all we need to know about him.

The mission is going smoothly, unlike every other mission prior, that something has to happen. From the three paragraphs I’ve just dedicated to Redwood, it won’t be any surprise when I tell you that, yep, Redwood shows up right after Cosmo and Stefan plant the EMP. The sleeping Parasites wake up when Redwood attempts to take Cosmo hostage, and ends up painfully smacking the butt of a lightning rod into him.There are thousands of them, and Stefan is left with no choice but to detonate the EMP, knocking out all the Parasites, and Redwood, for that matter. This is such a great scene: a massive amount of Parasites just got wiped out Redwood gets his comeuppance, and the power surge shorted out the tracking beads on the orphans, so they can escape from Clarissa Frayne without being traced. Cosmo and Stefan know that the EMP works, and they can finally do some real damage.

‘Time to go,’ said Cosmo. ‘Now or never.’

‘Now,’ decided the diminutive Fence, leading the no-sponsors into the night, like a modern-day Pied Piper.

Seeing the orphans escape, an effective way to fight the Parasites, and a bully getting what’s coming to him. There’s still some loose ends to tie up, but finally the characters – and the reader – can breathe easy and relax. There’s just one problem: that’s not the end of the book. It’s not even the end of the chapter.

Cosmo and Stefan aren’t able to savor their hard-won victory for long. That’s what kills me about this chapter. Just as soon as something goes right, and they finally getting the break they deserve, they get thrown through another loop, and then another. Three loops, in fact.

With books set in the not-too-distant future, characters usually gizmos which, at the time the book comes out, seem really cool and top of the line. However, after enough time goes by, real life technology is going to surpass whatever neat gadgets those characters have. Mona’s phone is a perfect example of this:

Mona’s phone was a pretty old one, without much in the way of technology. But it did have picture capabilities. Sixty seconds of video or a hundred stills.

The Supernaturalist came out in 2004, when cell phones were becoming more widespread. Reading this when I was fifteen, I would’ve been over the moon to have a Trak Phone, never mind one that can take pictures and video. Now, pictures and video come standard on even the simplest cell phones, and let me tell you — the phone I had in 2007 could take more than 60 seconds of video in one sitting. Saying that Mona’s phone was cheap let Colfer get away with it for a bit longer, but not in 2015. Funny, the small things that wear on my suspense of disbelief.

Mona uses her sub-par phone to capture a video of what appears to be Ditto helping a weakened Parasite, and then all hell breaks loose. Here’s Loop #1: Ditto is in league with the Parasites. Confronting him about this, Stefan suddenly falls through Loop #2: that Parasites take pain only, not life force.

This was another part where fifteen-year-old me wanted to throw the book down, because if it was true, then it was completely mind-blowing. The only reason I didn’t take a couple days off the book then was because I needed to see what happened next, which takes us to Loop #3.

Instead of having the happy ending they deserve, all four of them are captured by Myishi paralegals, and Colfer delivers another throw-away line that I would read an entire book about:

Abracadabra Street was no great challenge for a squadron that had broken into several foreign banks, two crime lords’ strongholds, and a private kindergarten.

Colfer, please make your next book all about high-tech brutes breaking into a kindergarten. Why a kindergarten? These are things I need to know.

The Supernaturalist Chap. 7: Spaaaaaace!

I don’t think there’s any rules that are set in stone when it comes to dividing chapters. As far as I can tell, you should make sure that each chapter ends on a note that will make your readers want to know what happens next, and that’s about it. How long or short each chapter is depends on the author and the story. I wish that Colfer had broken chapter seven up a bit more, though, because the chapter length feels uneven with the rest of the novel so far. For instance, Chapter 1 starts with Cosmo wanting to escape Clarissa Frayne, it ends with him doing just that. It’s nice and contained, and propels the story forward. Chapter 7, on the other hand, begins with Stefan sulking as he and Cosmo make their way home, and ends with the Supernaturalists in space. That’s a pretty big leap. There’s enough room for two or three chapters here by the time this one ends.

Stefan finally tells Cosmo his story, too, and it’s nothing we couldn’t figure out. He and his mother were in an accident and badly injured, he watched the Parasites suck his mother’s life energy away until she died. Stefan, in true Angsty Male Lead fashion, blames himself. There were plenty of hints strewn throughout the previous chapters, and his reveal really only serves to add more details to what we already knew – or, at least, assumed we knew. I like to give characters the benefit of the doubt, though, and hope that they’ll surprise me.

Though I didn’t grant this to Snape after reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which resulted in me feeling stupid when I read Deathly Hallows. And I only cried a little bit!

There’s also Cosmo’s awkward flirting with Mona. One great thing about fiction is that it elevates us, and takes us to places we’ve only imagined. We can live vicariously through the characters we cheer on; their triumphs are our triumphs. Our heroes are dashing and handsome and bold, and everything we’re not. Okay, saying the perfect thing at the perfect time is pretty unrealistic, and that’s why characters need to have flaws. We may want to be like them, but we also have to be able to relate to them.

Which is probably why I found Cosmo’s bungled flirting with Mona so cringe-worthy when I was a teenager, and adorable now.

‘Are you coming in, or are you just going to stand there?’ said Mona, without opening her eyes.

Cosmo tried to speak. Say something clever, he ordered his brain.

It’s not going to happen, replied his brain. You have enough spare cells for one word. Make it a good one. ‘Coffee,’ blurted Csomo. It could have been a lot worse under the circumstances.

It was so relatable to me then, because I only wished that I had the courage to talk to the guy I liked in high school. Because he was cute, and popular, and was in a band, and why would he ever want to hang out with someone like me? So, Cosmo, I applaud you, for taking a shot with a girl who you think is out of your league. However bungling a conversationalist you may be.

Mona stretched like a cat, her wiggling toes peeking out from under the unzipped sleeping bags.

‘Little piggies,’ said Cosmo’s mouth before he could stop it. [. . .]

Mona stared at him. ‘Have you ever had, like, a conversation with another person before?’

The story moves on with the Supernaturalists leaving Satellite City, and we see what the world outside the city, and the Satellite’s footprint – look like. Like the “One World Treaty” mentioned a few chapters ago, there are so many things that make me want to read more about the universe this novel takes place in. We’re never told where, geographically, Satellite City is, but outside of it is desert. The narration implies that this wasn’t here naturally, either. It was somehow man made. How? Global warming, nuclear strike, a massive build up of toxins? What turned a (presumably) habitable area into a desert? I want to know these things. Colfer, write a book explaining the basic history of The Supernaturalist universe, kplzthx.

People from the City are legitimately frightened of going to this apparent wasteland. Cosmo and Mona are curious to see what’s outside of the City, but Ditto is pretty uncomfortable with the whole idea.

Ditto shuddered. ‘This place gives me the creeps. You know they don’t have Satellite TV here? Some houses only have ten or fifteen illegal stations. What do they do all day?’

Now, this is where things start to get weird.

To find the Parasites’ nest, our rag-tag heroes need to find a way to track them, and eventually decide to use the Satellite to do so. It’s not something they can do on the ground, though, so they decide to go to space.

Okay, I can roll with a Satellite controlling everything in the city, invisible creatures sucking the life out of people, and rappelling lawyers. What I have a harder time getting behind is space travel. Even if technically they’re actually not going very far out of the Earth’s atmosphere. As a kid, I didn’t like this part because I didn’t think it fit in very well with the rest of the story.

As an adult, I don’t like this part because none of them is qualified to go to space. A big part of my current job is running a space camp for kids, I’ve met (and been hugged by) a real life astronaut, and I know way more about the International Space Station than any twentysomething with a non-STEM degree should know. In other words, I’m a space nerd. Always have been.

So, even though it’s the future and a lot of technology has changed, I’m still calling shenanigans on the space adventure.

First of all, there’s the preflight check. Mona goes through a checklist to determine if the small ship they’ll be using is safe to fly in. Which made perfect sense to me the first time I read this. Mechanic works on engines, therefore mechanic can figure out all engines.

I may not be handy, but I can still figure out basic car stuff: adding various fluids, changing wipers, fixing a flat. But those skills don’t translate to a spaceship. If the “low air pressure” came on in my car, I know exactly what to do. If it came on in the space shuttle, I wouldn’t have a clue what to do, and we would all probably die. It really bothers me that Mona, who’s most likely never worked on a spacecraft of any kind, has enough mechanical expertise to do a prelaunch check on the HALO (high-altitude low-orbit spacecraft) they’ll be using, instead of, say, the guy who actually owns it. I’m pretty sure engine work on cars, no matter how souped-up they may be, doesn’t translate to engine work on spaceships.

Of course, with so much depending on the Satellite, there are plenty of small spacecraft traveling up to it, owned by private companies. The way it’s written, it sounds like going up to the Satellite is just a regular day at the office, even if you’re not one of the “disc jockeys” who are responsible to maintain it.

But the other thing that bothered me about this foray outside the atmosphere is a throwaway line about space suits. It turns out Stefan can’t fit in the one usable suit on board, but Mona chimes in that space suits are one-size-fits-all.

Like Musica’s magical sobriety in Rave Master 2, this one line made we want to do a table flip. Because space suits are not one size fits all, and every. individual. astronaut. gets a suit fitted personally to them. This is how space works.

I think most people would give this a by, but I can’t, and the only reason for that is because I know way too much about space travel as it works right now. There’s plenty to like about this chapter, but this is one thing that I don’t.

On the plus side, we see more and more of Cosmo’s emerging personality. He’s only been with the group for a few days, and as action-packed as they were, he’s still a bit of an outsider. This is the chapter where he seals the deal, by volunteering to put on the suit that doesn’t fit Stefan and going out into space to get onboard the Satellite and use a panel that will sweep the city for energy leaks. The highest concentration of those energy leaks is where the Parasites will be drawn to, therefore, their nest. When something goes wrong with the Satellite, he ends up getting launched into space, and survives only by getting incredibly lucky. If running around on rooftops and learning Stefan’s story didn’t make him a full-fledged member of the group, this certainly did.

Cosmo’s grown from a kid with no idea about his future beyond Clarissa Frayne, and not much of a character himself, to someone pretty gutsy, and loyal to the people who took him in. So much so that he risks his life for their mission. Congratulations, Cosmo, you’re finally figuring out how to be a person, just like we both wanted.

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 destabilized.

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 incur a significant amount of damage on the Myishi paralegals, and a three-story assault tank. Yes, three stories. 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 significant 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 Supernaturalists’ 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? 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, and I daresay that this book wouldn’t have any trouble catching interest in the first three chapters. Like I mentioned before, action in The Supernaturalist 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 happened 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.