Sci-fi authors Hopkinson, Miéville and others blur lines of kid, adult appeal
Books with "crossover" appeal for both children and adults are popular this summer — new titles in the science fiction-fantasy field include Nalo Hopkinson's "The Chaos," China Miéville's "Railsea," E.C. Meyers' "Fair Coin" and Saladin Ahmed's "Throne of the Crescent Moon."
Special to The Seattle Times
Success sells. The popularity of books in The Hunger Games, Harry Potter and Twilight series makes publishers ready and willing to offer readers of every age group more "children's books" that also appeal to adults.
Caribbean-born Canadian Nalo Hopkinson made her name known with "Brown Girl in the Ring," "Midnight Robber" and other adult-oriented science-fiction adventures stemming from island roots. Drawing once again on her expatriate heritage, in "The Chaos" (McElderry Books, 256 pp., $16.99), Hopkinson describes the survival of near-future Toronto teen Scotch, when normal reality inexplicably begins to break down. Holes to other dimensions open, volcanoes rise in the city's midst, and a black goo covers her usually pale-brown skin — but Scotch (nicknamed for her native cuisine's hottest pepper) sorts through the attendant "comess" (island-speak for confusion) with high-spirited determination. Attractive as Scotch is, she's almost eclipsed by Punum, a gloriously fierce punk rocker in a wheelchair. Rich with a variety of likable characters, matter-of-fact in its portrayal of high school's cutthroat social scenarios, fast-paced yet full of insights about race, class, and other grown-up concerns, "The Chaos" does everything a crossover young-adult novel could to give utter satisfaction.
China Miéville's first juvenile novel, "Un Lun Dun," came out in 2007. It was a best-seller, though he's primarily known for his "New Weird" adult novels such as "The Scar" and "The City and the City." "Railsea" (Del Rey, 424 pp., $18), a return to the juvenile form, is as refreshingly strange as the rest of his work. A retelling of "Moby Dick" with whales replaced by gigantic moles — mammoth burrowers hunted by motley crews who live aboard trains instead of ships — it transports readers to an alternate world built on centuries of discards: "tiny cogs from a clockwork epoch," and trailing fronds of ripped-up bags from "the Plastozoic." Atop these sedimentary layers a young apprentice moler searches for the end of the omnipresent railway's line. What he finds and how he finds it are equally fascinating, thanks to Mieville's oddly apt descriptions (and drawings — he provides the book's illustrations) of actions and images we'd have a hard time imagining on our own.
Fantasy and science-fiction presses aren't only publishing young-adult crossover novels from established adult authors. "Fair Coin" (Pyr, 290 pp., $16.95) is E.C. Myers' first book. What initially seems to be a magic coin enables its hero, high schooler Ephraim, to travel from the scene of his mother's attempted suicide into parallel universes that are by turns happier and grimmer.
Eventually Ephraim and his friends find a scientific explanation for this involving quantum physics and Everett's Many-worlds Theory, which postulates that every decision point in the history of our universe creates additional realities. But the science, though solid, is mainly a springboard to adventure — theft, murder and narrow escapes. With clear, engaging prose Myers leads his readers deftly through what might have been confusing shifts in Ephraim's surroundings; this is a good young-adult novel that also has lots to offer not-so-young adults.
Another new author, Saladin Ahmed, makes his novel-length debut with "Throne of the Crescent Moon" (DAW, 304 pp., $24.95). In Ahmed's Islamic-inspired imaginary realms — Abassen, Rughal-ba and the Soo Republic — dervishes, healers and magicians battle monstrous ghouls to the death. An aging doctor is reluctantly drawn into one last fight, backed by a zealously religious youth, a shape-shifting desert-dweller and two African immigrants. It's an uncommon combination of characters in an intriguing setting, providing romance and danger, evil and redemption, in appetizing portions suitable for all.