Top positive review
5 people found this helpful
Super Science and Fantasy Make Great Bedfellows in This YA Adventure
on March 16, 2011
Tim Pratt brings a nice touch to a classic fantasy and sf setup in his 2010 YA novel, The Nex, about Randy, a thirteen year old girl who finds herself transported to another world populated by bizarre humans, creatures and machines. It's so much a classic trope that Randy tells us she's already considered what to do if something like this ever happened. Instead of seeing at it as a tragedy, she picks up the half-full magic chalice and drinks. Getting home will work out or not, but this is an adventure not to be missed.
So Randy joins the legions of adventurer heroes that found themselves suddenly far from home, thrown in with companions on a mission, running down a yellow brick road while chased by a powerful evil force.
And she rocks.
Randy got transported to The world of the Nex by a bracelet of gems with shifting colors she grabbed from the backseat of her brother's beat up Mustang. Stealing is something she's fallen into since her father walked into his restaurant just before it exploded and she, her mother and brother all took up their own dysfunctional ways of coping with their loss. Besides, shes pretty sure he found, or stole, it himself.
She's right, of course.
Where she lands is the world at the center of all possible worlds, the Nex, or more formally, Nexignton-on-Axis, a place that has nothing of its own, but reaches out to the universes that rub up against it and takes what it needs...along with a fair amount of its surroundings. This provides the setup for her travels through a cultural and technological patchwork with a pair of self styled revolutionaries trying to escape the tyrannical Regent of Nex, who is, as often happens in these things, a visitor himself.
Her companions are a shape-shifting killer named Howlaa and a sparkly cloud of nanites named Wisp, both lately in the employ of the Regent. They are, in fact, his prime team of troubleshooters, trouble being whatever gets snatched up when the royal snatchers grab a slice of whatever reality it latches on to and brings back a plus one that causes problems.
Like Randy, for instance.
Fortunately, Howlaa and Wisp were after the bracelet, which allows you to jump across time and space, in their own bid for freedom. They're not really revolutionaries. Really they're just revolting, but they're not completely sure what that actually means. Though they weren't looking for her, when the bracelet bonds to her it becomes a package deal and away the trio sprint, the Regent's hench-creatures in hot pursuit.
Besides the plucky Randy and her companions, what I love about this book is the way Pratt has crossed the streams of science and fantasy, channeling Clarke's sufficiently advanced tech is indistinguishable from magic maxim.
"It's science, all right? Science is how it works."
"When you say `science' like that you might as well be saying `magic' or `the gods' or-" [...]
"Super Science, then...are you happy?"
- The Nex
It's YA, which means that there's nothing in here that should get a PTA's knickers in a twist, but it's a great story, and it contains the meta-threads of more than one genre in its yarn. Not only is it a great read, it's a fabulous launching point for comparing and contrasting everything from Candide to Avatar.
The shortcoming of the story is that it all goes by too quickly, and that things work out too neatly, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. On the one hand it makes for great fun, and on the other gives another good point for critical discussion ( i.e. Given that any of this is possible, what could have gone wrong?)
There's also a short story included at the end (Dream Engine) which introduces Wisp, Howlaa and the world of Nex in one of their adventures shooting trouble for the Regent. It does a nice job of setting up the context for the novel, and offers a nice hook into the bigger story.
Due to its kleptomaniacal ways, the Nex is full of the widest possible variety of people, places and things, limited only by the constraint that they all be possible...but likely is very much not a requirement. In the Nex, anything can happen, but only if it could actually happen. This makes it a perfect playground for short stories, and a great opportunity for writing assignments using it's setting. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the author was willing to share his universe with YA writers to see what they could come up with.
And then there's the price. Granted you need something that will read an Amazon Kindle book, like a Kindle, iPad, iPhone, Android or computer running the Kindle app, but after that it's only 99 cents. Nearly what paperback books cost when we were very young.
If readers like The Nex, I'd recommend his 2005 debut novel The Strange Adventurers of Ranger Girl in which a Californian barista art school dropout dukes it out with a demon from her own comic strip. It's aimed at a bit older audience than The Nex, but very accessible to teen readers.
Ernest Lilley ([...])