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.