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Tag Archives | Science Fiction

Planetarium

PlanetariumMy fas­ci­na­tion with out­er space is well-doc­u­ment­ed. I had star charts on my child­hood bed­room walls. But this book would have enthralled me … in fact, it still does.

The illus­tra­tions by engraver and print­mak­er Chris Wormell are detailed in a way that aids under­stand­ing. Scale is a tough con­cept for our com­pre­hen­sion but this book tack­les that with info­graph­ics that give a sense of how enor­mous our uni­verse is.

Arranged as though one is walk­ing through a muse­um, the var­i­ous gal­leries house sim­i­lar top­ics. In the Solar Sys­tem gallery, there are sep­a­rate two-page spreads for each plan­et, the moon, the dwarf plan­ets (poor Plu­to), comets and aster­oids, and the exo­plan­ets. The infor­ma­tion is short but juicy. Do you know what an exo­plan­et is?

For exam­ple, on the Mer­cury pages, there are three para­graphs of high­ly intrigu­ing infor­ma­tion, an expla­na­tion of what we’re look­ing at in the illus­tra­tion (a cross-sec­tion of Mercury’s inte­ri­or and what the sur­face of the plan­et looks like). We learn that “despite these fierce day­time tem­per­a­tures, there are pock­ets of water ice at Mercury’s north pole, where the plan­et has deep craters per­ma­nent­ly shield­ed from the sun’s heat.” Irre­sistible. How did the water get there? The text sup­plies the answer.

The oth­er gal­leries include the Sun, the night sky, the stars, galax­ies, and the Uni­verse. We’ve moved from close scale to enor­mous spaces. The illus­tra­tions for stel­lar births and black holes are out­stand­ing. And that’s choos­ing from among some beau­ti­ful depic­tions of the mys­ter­ies of space.

Black Holes
illus­tra­tion copy­right Chris Wormell, Plan­e­tar­i­um, Big Pic­ture Press / Can­dlewick Press, 2018

Raman Prin­ja brings his exten­sive knowl­edge as a pro­fes­sor of astro­physics at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don to the text. I admire the way this duo has tack­led some­thing so vast and made knowl­edge about space seem to be with­in our grasp. They will cer­tain­ly pro­pel read­ers to learn more.

If you have a Star Wars, Star Trek, Expanse, or sci-fi fan in your home or school, they will absorb this book. A sci­ence geek will be thrilled. A child with ques­tions about the night sky will love hav­ing the answers. Writ­ten at a lev­el that a deter­mined fourth grad­er can com­pre­hend, it’s appro­pri­ate for any child or adult who wants to under­stand the real­i­ty behind the sto­ries they’re drawn to watch and read.

High­ly recommended.

Plan­e­tar­i­um
curat­ed by Chris Wormell and Raman Prin­ja
Big Pic­ture Press, Can­dlewick Press, 2018

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Mighty Jack

Mighty Jack and the Goblin KingWe are thrust into the midst of the action, which nev­er stops until the epi­logue. This is how Ben Hatke tells a story.

We don’t know what’s going on. There’s no set­up. Instead, we quick­ly learn that Jack is climb­ing some veg­e­ta­tive mat­ter to find the ogre who kid­napped his sis­ter Mad­dy and take her home. His friend, Lil­ly, no side­kick, is climb­ing along­side him.

The vil­lains of the piece are rats, giants, and that ogre. They have con­trol of a nexus point that exists out­side of time and space, a con­nect­ing link between worlds. It looks like the tow­er of a cas­tle built on an aster­oid. The place has lost its lus­ter because of the giants’ nefar­i­ous choic­es, among them the need to feed a human child to the machine that blocks the bridges between worlds. It’s sat­is­fy­ing to dis­cov­er these plot points through­out the story.

Jack and Lil­ly are split up when Lil­ly falls from the vine (a rat is respon­si­ble). Jack vows to come back for her but he is com­pelled to find Maddy.

This is not earth,” illus­tra­tion from Jack and the Mighty Gob­lin King by Ben Hatke

The adven­ture takes off in two direc­tions. Lil­ly is seri­ous­ly hurt by the rats … and saved by the gob­lins who inhab­it the low­er reach­es of the nexus point. The Gob­lin King demands that Lil­ly will be his bride. She has oth­er ideas. In the “trash from all worlds,” she finds a Shel­by Mus­tang. She will find a way to take it with her. Lil­ly is a hero in the truest sense of the word.

The gob­lins are the most endear­ing char­ac­ters in the book. They are fun­ny, resource­ful, knowl­edge­able, and they care for Lil­ly. Their lan­guage is not exact­ly Eng­lish and it suits them. Now we know how gob­lins communicate.

There are unan­swered ques­tions. Why can’t Mad­dy talk? Where did the mag­ic seeds come from that give Jack and Lil­ly short bursts of need­ed pow­er? Why is Jack’s mother’s house being fore­closed? These are the intrigu­ing bits that encour­age the read­er to fill in the sto­ry, becom­ing one with the storyteller.

Hatke’s art­work is so much a part of the sto­ry that the book couldn’t be read out loud with­out show­ing the frames of the graph­ic nov­el. His brain cre­ates exot­ic set­tings that invite lin­ger­ing to absorb their odd­ness. His vil­lains are das­tard­ly, fear­some, invit­ing us to defeat them. The gob­lins are oth­er-world­ly but a lit­tle cud­dly. (Just a lit­tle.) The col­or palette is spacey where appro­pri­ate,  con­vinc­ing­ly sub­ter­ranean when we’re in the goblin’s habi­tat, and quite rich­ly appeal­ing when the veg­e­ta­tion trans­forms. And that Shel­by Mustang!

The book is filled with sur­pris­es. A turn of the page often brings an unex­pect­ed turn of events. Even the epi­logue, often used to wrap up a sto­ry and tell us about the future, leaves us with a  sense of urgency: what will hap­pen next?

There is a first book, Mighty Jack, which I have not read. It most like­ly cre­ates the world in which Lil­ly, Jack, Mad­dy, and Phe­lix the drag­on (!) live, but I’m very glad that a read­er does­n’t have to first read that book to enjoy this one. I always hat­ed going to my cousin Sig’s house, read­ing his com­ic books, nev­er know­ing where the sto­ries were com­ing from or how they would end because they were pub­lished episodically. 

This is sto­ry­telling at its very best. Appeal­ing, fun, hold-your-breath sto­ry­telling. I could have revealed that this is a re-telling of the Jack and the Beanstalk sto­ry but it is so much more than that. Ben Hatke’s pow­ers enchant his read­ers once again.

(Please be advised that this might have a PG13 rat­ing because of some vio­lence and one swear word. You’ll know best if this fits for your family.)

Mighty Jack and the Gob­lin King
a graph­ic nov­el by Ben Hatke
col­or by Alex Camp­bell and Hilary Sycamore
pub­lished by First Sec­ond, 2017
ISBN 978−1−6267−226−68

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Outer Space Ambassador

alarm clockby Vic­ki Palmquist

Every once in a while I come across a book that wakes up that breath­less, eager, sense-of-won­der-at-every­thing-new feel­ing I had about read­ing as a child. I admit it, after 3,000 or so books the plots and char­ac­ters and res­o­lu­tions can feel sim­i­lar to some­thing I’ve read before.

Well, I joy­ful­ly read a book that hit all the right notes and trans­port­ed me back to a bed­time read­ing expe­ri­ence where I couldn’t turn off the light, fell asleep, and then woke up in the morn­ing to fin­ish the book before my feet hit the floor.

AmbassadorAmbas­sador by William Alexan­der is just that good.

I’ve enjoyed sci­ence fic­tion since my sixth grade teacher read aloud A Wrin­kle in Time. Our entire class­room tried hard to tesser­act. Thank you, Mr. Rausch! Then our librar­i­an helped me find Eleanor Cameron’s Mush­room Plan­et books. There was­n’t much else in that genre for a sixth grade read­er so I moved on to fan­ta­sy … but today’s read­ers have a wider vari­ety of choices.

Will Alexan­der does what all good hero­ic jour­ney authors do. He starts us in a com­fort­able, right-at-home set­ting and then takes us to places unimag­in­able. Gabriel San­dro Fuentes, who recent­ly got into trou­ble for let­ting his friend Frankie set off a rock­et, is select­ed to be the next Ambas­sador from Earth to The Embassy, where sen­tient beings from all over the uni­verse gath­er for diplo­ma­cy. When the Envoy arrives, he tells Gabriel of his new respon­si­bil­i­ty. He should also give Gabe point­ers on how to trav­el through his dreams to reach the Embassy and what to do when he gets there. But some­one is try­ing to kill Gabe and the Envoy is busy defend­ing him … by cre­at­ing a black hole in the Fuentes’ dry­er. A small one.

Alexan­der plants clues through­out the book. When Gabe and Frankie argue over who has more pow­er, Zor­ro or Bat­man, the author is neat­ly set­ting up the theme in the book. I espe­cial­ly loved Gabe’s fas­ci­nat­ing, intre­pid, mul­ti-tal­ent­ed, and present par­ents … up until Gabe’s father faces depor­ta­tion. Alexander’s fresh descrip­tions, per­cep­tions, and actions keep the read­er upright, expec­tant, slight­ly ner­vous, and look­ing for­ward to turn­ing the page.

This is the per­fect book for most read­ers whether they have expe­ri­enced sci­ence fic­tion or not. It’s first and fore­most a rock­et-fueled sto­ry with intrigue, humor, and a very like­able hero. Read it!

 

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