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. 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. 1: Cosmonaut Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even so, it was fun to read through again.

Final Verdict: For Sale

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

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

Rave Master Chap. 12: Your Basic D.I.D

Chapter 12 begins with Musica reforging the sword that once was broken, the Ten Power’s sword. Here’s where I start to get really incredulous. Haru has, at this point, less than two hours to save Elie; therefore, he needs his sword finished in time. Musica even tells him that in his prime, it took a day for him to make a sword. Now, I don’t know much about metalwork, but I’m pretty sure it would be pretty damn hard, if not  impossible, to repair a sword in under two hours. Add on the fact that Musica’s been drunk for the past 15 years, it seems to me this would be well out of the realm of possibility. But story trumps logic, and Musica is able to fix the sword in no time flat. Haru promises to destroy Lance’s sword, and is off to save the girl.

Meanwhile, Elie is chained in Lance’s place, and reminds me why I like her so much. Even though she’s a damsel in distress and waiting for the guys to save her, she’s still a fun and upbeat character. She’s not panicking or crying or just saying Haru’s name, like that will bring him faster. Maybe it’s a bit ridiculous that she’s doing this even when she’s threatened with a sword, I appreciate that she brings some levity to her situation.

Musica the Gangster is waiting for Haru outside Lance’s mansion, but decides to go in by himself as the clock winds down. He wastes no time in beating up the guards outside getting in. His next exchange will Elie represent a huge difference between the thirteen-year-old reading this manga and me, as an adult reading this manga.

Cute, young girl gets captured by a strong, powerful man with no morals, who has her chained up and could do anything he wanted to to her. If this were Game of Thrones, or a crime novel, maybe a TV drama with adults as a target audience, you know exactly where this is going to go.Maybe it’s because I’ve finally read the first book of Game of Thrones, maybe it’s because I’m more aware of sexual assault and rape now than I was, maybe it’s just because I’m an adult and have learned that the world is dangerous, even moreso if you’re a woman…I always get on edge when I hear about situations – fictional or not – like these.

If this is how Game of Thrones treated sexual abuse, I might actually watch it.

But it doesn’t. There’s nothing sexual about this scene. Elie claims that Lance was trying to look down her shirt, but she says that it was a joke. I’m so glad that this scene didn’t go anywhere near that. I remember that Rave Master gets dark in some places. There’s death, suicide, and some reasonably adult themes in the series. But it never goes into sexual assault. There’s a lot of reasons why this might be the case. It’s an action manga, rather than a drama; the target audience is teenagers; it’s too dark.

Whatever reasons Mashima decided not to use it, I’m glad.

I’m also glad that when I was reading this as a young adolescent, the idea that Elie might be raped never even crossed my mind.  It’s a small piece of innocence, but innocence nonetheless. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better if I could still think like that.

Musica fights Lance’s bodyguard, Bis, and there are more puns. When it becomes apparent that Musica is going to win,  Lance cuts down Bis, to prove just how evil he is. Evil, but not interesting. As Musica steps up to fight Lance, Musica the Blacksmith has just finished repairing Haru’s sword. Haru learns that Musica the Blacksmith’s family was murdered by Lance, and Haru vows to destroy Lance’s sword, ending chapter 12.

Right now the story seems pretty generic. Girl gets kidnapped by bad guy, hero goes to save girl, bad guy has no real motivation to be so bad. It really bugs me that Lance is just evil for the sake of being evil. The best villains are the ones that do wrong for reasons they think are right. A good villain believes in something. Lance? He believes in hurting people, mainly for shits ‘n’ giggles. I don’t know about you, but that’s not a cause I can get behind.

Rave Master Chap. 7-8: My Sister Taught Me That!

Haru was mostly raised by his older sister, and he really took whatever she taught him to heart. I know this, because he’s always talking about, “my sister taught me that!” I remember that he said something along those lines a lot early in the series, and I remember that it really annoyed me. Possibly because I was thirteen when I first read these books, and therefore my older sister – if you were to ask me – was an idiot. Re-reading these now, it still bugs me a little bit. Not because Haru’s taking his older sister’s advice, but because he mentions “my sister told me…” so often. The other reason is because everything that Haru’s sister has taught him is completely obvious.

Take a drink every time Haru talks about what his sister taught him.

Really, Haru? Dogs are getting impaled on spikes and exploded, but you need your sister’s advice to figure out that animal cruelty is bad?

Despite Elie’s warnings, Haru interrupts the race again. This was Georco’s plan all along, of course: to put Plue in the dangerous race and lure Haru out. Now, there is one thing, and one thing only I will applaud Georco on: he learned from his mistakes. Instead of fighting Haru out in the open, where another explosion could blow his gaseous form away, Georco traps him in a giant steel box with no way out – in other words, no fresh air for Haru to breathe. It kind of begs the question why Georco had a giant, ten foot tall box laying around in the first place, but I can forgive that, because the ridiculous trap was pretty effective. However, I cannot forgive Georco for constantly referring to it as the “Smoke Hiz-ouse”. A part of me died every time I had to read that phrase.

Without oxygen, Haru can’t make explosions, and so it looks like he’s screwed.

The day is saved by Elie, and I love that, purely because it’s the girl saving the guy, and not the other way around. She uses her tonfa blasters (which are like side-arm cannons, I actually like them) to blow up the smoke house to let Haru escape. Plue manages to steal Georco’s dark bring, so he can no longer turn himself into gas. Out in the open again, Haru delivers the final blow to Georco, thus finishing our first Monster of the Week.

With all the action, there wasn’t a lot of plot in Chapter 7, so we’ll move on to Chapter 8.

Now that Georco’s been taken down, Haru and Elie take a minute to talk. Of course, this is after Elie nearly blows up half the stadium with her tonfa blasters.

That’s actually good advice, Haru. Don’t stick it in crazy.

 It turns out the Elie knows where to find Musica, the blacksmith that can repair Haru’s sword. She also reveals what little there is to reveal about her backstory: she has lost her memory. It’s a tired trope at this point, but what I like about Elie is that she’s not angsty about it. There’s plenty of “waaah, I can’t remember!” characters out there, but Elie is happy, excitable, and generally a fun character, rather than being mopey about it. She doesn’t take up too much time feeling sorry for herself, which is nice to see. Yes, she would like her memory back, but she’s also not going to let herself be miserable over it.

Haru and Elie decide to leave Hip Hop Town together. They say that Demon Card is out of commission, so they won’t have to pay the fee to leave. But how does punching the daylights out of Georco take down an evil organization that’s clearly taken over the town? I’m sure Georco has some underlings who would gladly take over his role as boss. Or maybe that’s the end of dog racing in Hip Hop Town forever because Elie completely destroys the stadium.

Seriously. She’s so excited to be leaving town with Haru that she lets off another couple shots from her tonfa blaster and the stadium starts to collapse. Her reason:

The duo escape the stadium by…jumping on a chariot pulled by dogs. I’m not joking. This whole series is so goofy, though, that I think I’ve learned just to go with it by now.

 We’re nearly at the end of the chapter, but there’s just one more thing I want to bring up. We get a brief cutaway to some of Demon Card’s generals, hanging out in the fortress Rhapsodia.

This is when it hit me.

Rhapsodia, like “rhapsody”. Song continent. Hip Hop Town and Punk Street.

THE TOWNS ARE ALL NAMED AFTER MUSIC GENRES.

Ever since I was a kid I thought that all the town names in Rave Master were really dumb. And I never once thought there was a musical motif in the names. HOW THE HELL DID I MISS THAT?

It turns out the town names aren’t dumb; I am.

Rave Master Vol. 2, Chap. 6: Down with the Kids Today

Chapter 6 starts with Haru facing off against Georco. And I hate Georco. There are plenty of reasons to dislike a villain, but I don’t hate him because he’s villainous and actively trying to kill our hero. That’s just part of what villains do.

I hate him because of the way he talks.

Did you ever have a teacher who wanted to prove he could talk to kids by attempting to use their slang, but was a few years behind what everyone else was saying? Or see middle-class kids who listen to rap music and then decide they’re “ghetto” too, and try to act like it? Has your mom ever tried to talk to you using words like “swag” or “fleek” or whatever the hell it is those darn kids are saying today?

Georco sounds like all those people.

#YOLO #BILBOSWAGGINS

I think that he’s supposed to sound cool and “with it”, or maybe it has something to do with the way the manga was translated. Maybe “I’ve peeped this cat before” sounds really cool in Japanese, instead of something ripped from a 1920s gangster movie.

An annoying and otherwise forgettable one-shot villain is made utterly detestable because of his dialogue, and for a twist, it’s not what he says, it’s how he says it.

Georco has a Dark Bring, which gives him the power to turn into carbon monoxide. That’s…actually kind of cool, now that I think about it. The way Georco’s attack names are translated, though, seem weird. The first attack Georco uses is called “Toxic Gas Blast”, because when you live in a manga, you always need to announce exactly what you’re doing to your enemy. However, a footnote lets us know that the original name of the attack is “CO Heaven”. That sounds a lot more bad-ass, if you ask me. So why bother changing it? It would probably help me take the character more seriously.

Even though his sword is broken, Haru can still use the power of Rave to make explosions. He can’t hit Georco directly, so instead he creates an explosion to blow smoky Georco away.

Hang on a second. A thought just occurred to me. Isn’t carbon monoxide invisible? If Georco really turned into carbon monoxide, why can we still see him? Because it seems to me it would be a lot smarter for him to just disappear from view and asphyxiate Haru. The kid was having a hard enough time with the fight when he could see Georco.

He’s RIGHT. FUCKING. THERE.

Anyway, Haru manages to get away from Georco, but isn’t in good shape after their fight. In fact, he completely forgets to rescue Plue as he makes his escape. You know, the thing that made him break up the race in the first place. Okay, he’s in respiratory distress at the moment, so I’ll handwave this one. For now. What I can’t forgive is how easily the mooks chasing Haru overlook him.

How did I let them get away with this when I was a kid?


With that potentially exciting scene squandered, Haru takes a minute to catch his breath, literally, and talks with Elie. It turns out that Demon Card has a lot of power in Hip Hop Town and anyone who wants to leave has to pay a huge fee to Demon Card. This kind of makes me wonder at the implications of this for Hip Hop Town’s economy, but that’s neither here nor there. Elie tells Haru her plan for getting out of Hip Hop Town: she’s bet all her money on the dog race. This…is very poor financial planning.

It turns out Elie’s placed her bets on Plue to win the Battle Road race. Battle Road is essentially greyhound racing meets the Hunger Games.

Am I a bad person because I think that sounds kind of awesome?

It is decidedly not awesome for the dogs participating, because along with them attacking each other, there’s all sort of traps set around the race track, like spears that pop out of the ground and explosions. Even though Elie claims that no dog has ever died on Battle Road, I’m finding that a little hard to believe.

Her reasoning for putting all her money on Plue? She’s convinced that he’s a bug who will fly at the end of the race. I know Elie’s supposed to be a goofy character, but…really? He barely looks like a dog, how the hell did you look at Plue and decide he was a bug?

Haru wants to rescue Plue, but since Elie’s bet everything she has on the race, she refuses to let Haru do so, and threatens to alert Demon Card thugs if he tries to stop the race. And so ends chapter 6.

I’m trying to remind myself of the MST3K Mantra: “Remind yourself it’s just a show, I should really just try to relax”. It’s perfectly normal for goons to make bad choices and heroes to, likewise, make bad choices. It’s what propels a story along. So I’ll forgive the story for now, and try to enjoy its goofiness.

Rave Master Vol. 2, Chapter 5: Introduction

Through junior high, high school, and early college, I was an otaku. That phrase itself dates me, as I believe the acceptable term today is “weeaboo.” The point being, for a long while I was an anime and manga fan, and was probably pretty obnoxious about it.

Being an anime geek when I was growing up wasn’t like it is today. You couldn’t go down to FYE and buy a DVD of your favorite show, and Netflix didn’t exist, so you bought box sets from eBay with your parents’ credit card. If you wanted merchandise – a t-shirt, a plushie – you were probably out of luck, unless you were looking for pokémon.

If you went to my school, there were a few rules you had to follow. You had to hide your nerdiness away. That meant you didn’t hang up pictures of your favorite anime characters in your locker, you didn’t talk about your favorite shows to people who weren’t otaku, and you definitely didn’t bring your manga to school. Naturally, I broke all these rules. When you’re so unpopular most of your classmates don’t bother to register your existence, you haven’t got much to lose.

So it was in eighth grade, the worst time of anyone’s life, when I discovered manga. The second volume of Rave Master was one of the first mangas I ever owned, and I remember loving the series. My older sister read it as well, but declared that it was dumb. More than a decade later, I’ve started re-reading it to determine who was right.

I never actually owned the first volume of Rave Master, but I remember it well enough. It starts with our hero, Haru, living with his older sister on a small island. Haru is an orphan because of course he is. While fishing one day, Haru catches a creature named Plue, which looks like a snowman with four legs, though is frequently referred to as a dog. Plue is the bearer of Rave, a magical stone that was broken into pieces at the end of a war to stop something called the Overdrive, or a really large explosion.

Plue is shortly joined by Shiba, an old man with a spike on his head. The spike really bothered me, until I realized it was a tuft of hair that made him resemble a unicorn.

Shiba, it turns out, is the current Rave Master. That is, the only person who can use the Rave stones. With Shiba also comes Demon Card, the evil organization that’s searching for Rave. Eventually, it’s discovered that Haru is the new Rave Master, and now he must find all the pieces of Rave and defeat Demon Card. Because we can’t have a manga series starring an old man now, could we? That would be ridiculous!

Near the end of the book, the Ten Powers sword breaks, and Haru leaves his island to find Musica, the blacksmith that first forged the sword, to repair it. Haru and Plue set sail for the seas of adventure, and that’s where the first volume ends.

Got all that? Good.

Dusting off the second book, I realized that the art wasn’t as good as I remember. Certainly, it’s much better than I could do, but the characters’ necks just look way too thin to support their heads. Or is that just part of the anime style of art that I’ve forgotten about? Of course, I shouldn’t be too harsh when the characters from my all-time favorite manga, Dragon Knights, look like this:

Huckleberry Finn Haru and Plue land in Hip Hop Town, and I really like the weird world that the manga-ka, Hiro Mashima, has built for us. The panels can be a bit cluttered because there’s a lot going on, and Mashima’s slipped small background events in. I also want to point out these guys:

The sun and moon, to show time passing. I completely forgot they were in the manga, but I thought they were hilarious as a kid and I love them now. Don’t ask me why.

After getting on shore, Plue promptly gets kidnapped. After a thrilling two pages of Haru searching around town, he finds Plue has been entered into dog races, which are a pretty big deal in town. Okay, I can go with it. What I cannot get past is why someone would actually think that Plue is (a) a dog, and (b) would be any good in a race. This is what the racing dogs look like:

This is Plue.

Plue gets taken off the track for being the worst racing dog ever, and Haru interrupts the race and comes to his rescue, in a mad dash for the arena that would make Legolas proud. I still can’t decide if using non-skateboard things as a skateboard is amazing or stupid. I’m probably going to go with stupid.

Haru beats up some mooks causes enough commotion that the head of the dog racing rink finally appears, who is…*gasp* a member of Demon Card!! So here we have Monster of the Week #1, Georco. Thus ends chapter 5 of Rave Master.

It wasn’t that good. I did like that Haru got completely lost in Hip Hop Town while looking for Plue, which is what I would expect from someone visiting a large city for the first time. There’s some world building already, and it’s pretty fast-paced so far, so it’s easy to keep my attention. Right now I kind of find Haru loud and obnoxious, but maybe that’s because the only character he’s interacted with thus far (that he wasn’t beating up) is some kind of animal that doesn’t talk.

Speaking of Haru beating up mooks, where did he learn how to fight? For a sixteen-year-old kid from a small, peaceful town, he sure knows how to throw a punch. By the time Georco shows up, he’s already taken down about ten other people. As a kid, that seemed perfectly acceptable to me. As an adult, I realize that it’s completely ridiculous unless Haru got a blackbelt before the series started.

Geez, all these things you don’t think of when you’re reading something for the first time.