For more information, visit the official Elixir website
Elixir by Ted Galdi is a YA sci-fi/techno thriller. Now, I need to be forthright. I'm probably not the best person to review YA titles. I'm a crusty curmudgeon of 60 and for the last several years have been practicing my "get off my lawn" mantra in the event I ever live in a place where a child might actually wander over onto my grass. I've also been slowly adding to my collection of vintage metamucil and realizing I can answer the hard questions on Jeopardy five minutes after they've been asked. (A case of game show l'esprit de l'escalier syndrome.)
That said, let me sip a bit from my cup of prune juice before setting it down and getting to work. Elixir falls into that category of yarn that I call a "Super Kid" (SK) book. We've all read and enjoyed some of them. Perhaps the best known SK books ever written are the Harry Potter series, where the Super Kid's super ability is magic, but there have been many others. Steven King's Charlie from Firestarter, where the heroine is able to perform exactly what the title says. Katniss from The Hunger Games, who's a distaff version of Green Arrow but not as well fed. One of my personal SK favorites was teleporting Davy from Jumper (though they spoiled him for me when they cast Young Darth Vader for the lead role in the movie adaptation).
Both SK and YA techno thrillers typically incorporate the following dramatic elements. These are:
Now, having rambled on in typical old-man fashion, let's take a look at Elixir's plot.
The story revolves around Super Kid Sean Malone. Sean's super power is being very smart indeed. At 11, he's a Jeopardy champion and at 14, takes a whack at solving the famous traveling salesman problem (TSP). In its simplest form, TSP exercises attempt to calculate the shortest possible route between cities wherein each city is visited once with the trip ending with a return to the original location. Companies such as D-Wave are building quantum computers to optimize ways to crunch through this class of calculations. Sean figures it out in an afternoon. That's smart.
His discovery draws the attention of the evil head of the Department of Defense, and through a series of mistakes and misunderstandings, Sean is forced to enter the FBI's witness protection program (presumably, the DOD and the Mafia are on equal footing in the eyes of the bureau). Sean, along with his guardian aunt, are whisked off to Italy to hide out. The aunt marries a hot Italian guy who likes to cook and doesn't cheat. Sean, now renamed James, becomes a renowned graffiti artist (the type of low-key trade people on the lam from evil government henchmen typically adopt).
At eighteen, Sean meets the beautiful child-woman Natasha Vonlanden and the two fall deeply in love. Natasha, unfortunately, is dragooned into going on safari with her clueless father. While gazing at giraffes or lions or whatever, she brushes up against a dead chimp?! and contracts ebola. Back in Italy, the disease takes hold and Natasha will die unless Sean can devise a cure. To do this, Sean will need to hack into the servers of an evil pharma company, figure out how to develop an ebola vacine, fly back to the US where the live-saving serum can be manufactured, avoid the clutches of an evil henchman, and return to Europe in time to save his girlfriend. He's got about four days to accomplish all this, if I've tracked the book's timeline correctly. The clock is ticking. (Better hope the airlines are up to snuff. The last time I flew to Basel, I missed my connecting flights on both sides of the trip.)
OK, I think we can stop with the plot synopsis at this point. As is already apparent, Elixir isn't an exemplar of tight, coherent plotting, but in YA, that's not entirely necessary. Five minutes with Divergent makes that clear. Heck, now that I ponder the issue, it isn't always necessary in bigger, non-YA fantasy novels either. Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is twelve hundred pages, sold over a million copies, and doesn't really have a plot, so we can all cut the author some slack. Still, Elixir's action framework clanks, rattles and clunks a bit too much for my taste. For his next book, more time with a plot doctor is called for.
Where Elixir hits the mark is Galdi's ability to write taut, visceral prose that makes you feel the story. For example:
"He sits on the the ledge of a fountain, marble angel in the center spouting water from its hand, a droplet jumping up and grazing the back of his neck every now and then."
And this description of the last rites being administered to the dying Natasha:
"His body heat fogs the plastic shield in front his face, the girl hazier through it now. He removes the cork from the oil receptable and dribbles some on his rubber gloved thumb. He spreads it on her brow, the liquid cold, goose bumps running down her neck."
This is good stuff. As I read these passages, I could feel the cool water on my back and the clammy gasp of the enviro suit as the priest looked down on his dying recipient. Couple that with the breakneck pace of the narrative and at its best, Elixir achieves a breathless, edge of your seat, Crank-the-movie feel.
To sum up, for YAs between 12 and the late teens, a fun ride. For us old geezers who fuss about plot and continuity, the book has less appeal. Let's see how Ted handles that criticism in his next book.
Space Games by Dean Lombardo
Buy it on Amazon
File Size: 535 KB
Print Length: 362 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Kristell Ink, Grimbold Books (June 21, 2013)
The battle between the sexes has a long and glorious history in sci-fi. From move "classics" such as "Queen of Outer Space" on to the 90's New Outer Limits' episode "Lithia" and Norman Spinrad's forgotten but still worth reading novel "A World Apart," boys and girls have been arguing, fighting, and getting on each other's nerves for decades. It's a conflict meme that never goes out of date. Only the style of the clash changes.
For example, "Queen of Outer Space," the greatest movie Zsa Zsa Gabor ever made, has a ringy dingy, "girls just want to have fun" vibe to it that leaves you remembering your first prom date. (Though the movie does have a darker side. The male lead, Eric Flemming, who would later star for years alongside Clint Eastwood in the TV series "Rawhide," is thought to have thrown himself to Amazonian piranhas while filming in South America. One would think that after spending a couple of weeks on set with Zsa Zsa Garbor, this manner of demise would have had a certain "been there, done that" feel, but we musn't question fate.)
The Outer Limits' "Lithia" possesses a more dystopian atmosphere and drives home the lesson that women can be cold indeed. Spinrad's novel reaches back to that 70's Cold War zeitgeist, when capitalism and communism wrestled for world supremacy under the shadow of two forests of ICBMs and asks both genders "can't we all just get along?"
Space Games answers that query with a resounding "no." The novel's feel is a blend of UFC meets Survivor meets Rollerball and no one gets along with anyone.
Now, before going any further, I feel it only fair to warn you. Games is one of the most violent and vicious books I've read in years, just this side of action porn. If you tend to tear up while rewatching "Notting Hill" for the tenth time and think "The Notebook" one of the greatest films ever made, DO NOT READ THIS BOOK. It will depress your life. On the other hand, if you're up for some sly, hard- nosed, insightful social satire, you will enjoy Space Games. And once you pick it up, you won't put it down until the last blood splatter has been launched and the last bone has been crunched. (Both occur frequently in the book.)
The plot of Space Games is as follows. Several decades from now, a new version of the International Space Station has been launched. Funded largely by private and corporate funds, the station is rented out for a new reality show, Space Games. The format pits man against woman in a contest for farme, fortune (a cash prize, endorsements, virtual fights against viewers) and gender superiority bragging rights. The competition consists of a series of contests, most of which encourage mauling, mutilation and mayhem.
The impresario of this death match in the sky is producer Sheldon Zimmer, accompanied by his not-so-loyal sidekick, Morty. (I know, I know. This is satire, remember?) Sheldon is a cross between Jerry Springer and Heydrich and worships money, ratings, and notoriety in no particular order.
The protagonists (the words "heroine" and 'hero" are completely inappropriate to the novel) of Space Games are Robin and Joe. Robin is a hybrid of Kim Kardashian and a rottweiler; Joe a mix of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jason. When the games begin, Robin is giving away a foot and a hundred pounds to Joe, but zero-G and a lack of a conscience can make up for a great deal. As the bloodletting and violence slowly spiral out of control in the orbiting colosseum, both characters win, lose, recover, and fight their way to the story's bloody denouement. Who you root for and why will depend entirely on your individual perspective and the level of trauma you've suffered in the past at the hands of the opposite sex. (Some of these aspects of your personality are probably best kept to yourself.)
Author Dean Lombardo's prose is crisp and professional and he keeps the story moving at a breakneck pace. The descriptions of how the station operates and other technical details are well thought through and convincing. The action sequences will make you wince (or adopt even more extreme facial contortions), but a generation that has flocked to seven "Saw" movies has no reason to object.
The most cogent complaints levied against the book are its violence and sexual abuse, but c'mon. Have you ever watched a UFC match? When I was a kid, there was name for what takes place in those arenas. It was called "criminal assault." Today, UFC matches regularly out rate their boxing counterparts.
When discussing sexual abuse, I have to admit there's no TV show (yet) that encourages or rewards the contestants for raping each other (and to be accurate, neither do the rules of Space Games). But we've already created and eagerly watch reality shows that encourage and reward paid prostitution. (What, you don't realize that's what's going in The Bachelor and The Bachelorette? No need to thank me; I was glad to make that clear.)
I do have one objection to Space Games and that's the coda at the end. In this section, the thoroughly loathsome Sheldon gets what's coming to him. I won't describe how or why, but I think his fate fails to mesh with the thrust of the book. You see, in the world of reality TV, when the last chair bangs over the head of the last guest on the set of the Jerry Springer Show on its last day, or when Geraldo descends from exposing patient abuse at mental hospitals to hawking the discovery of a couple of bottles of discarded beer in the "crypts" of Al Capone, these guys don't go away. Shame does not quell them. Public revulsion does not move them. Past guests do not kill them.
Instead, they plan their next comeback.
I highly recommend Space Games. (I also highly recommend that you not let your girlfriend, fiance, or wife read it after you've just had a fight.)
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Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
I'll take a look at YA, but I'm not the best fit to that audience. PDF, Mobi, print all fine. If you have an author website you wish me to link to, please provide the URL. I don't charge and I also don't guarantee a good review!
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