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. 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. 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.