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. 

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