Thursday, July 30, 2009

Global warming

Yikes! It's been so hot here in Portland. The newspaper today said it would be our fourth day of 100+° temperatures, but it looks like we're in for a reprieve -- it's a mere 93° right now. I've been commuting from my desk (air-conditioned) to a school 15 miles away (un-air-conditioned) all week; when I get home (un-air-conditioned), I take a cool shower, start up the three fans in my bedroom, and lie on my bed in the dark. Which means I finished Patrick Carman's The Dark Planet in record time: three days. This is the third book in the Atherton trilogy (and may I just say that I'm working overtime in reading Carman's series books without having read the first installments [and you know how I hate that!], since I've done it here and here), and the author helpfully provides a preface that brings the listener up to date. It did keep me from feeling slightly less lost in the first few chapters.

Atherton is a world created by a mad scientist where the environment has dramatically changed over the course of the trilogy. The scientist also created a boy named Edgar, who sets off on a journey -- at the request of a slightly more sane scientist (the mad one now being dead) -- to the home world of the mad scientist to ... (hmmm ...I'm not remembering why he needs to go there). The home world is the Dark Planet and it is in its final stages of life: It is so terribly polluted that only 11-year-old (or 4,200-days-old in the lingo of the novel) children can stand to be outside gathering the energy that is required to keep the few surviving humans alive inside Station No. 7. And nobody lasts long if they go outside. The surviving adults don't have any moral qualms about subjecting the few remaining children to danger, starvation and forced labor to support the dying planet. Edgar is, of course, 11 years old.

Fortunately, he isn't required to suffer much before he rescues the children and -- with the aid of some magical technology left behind by the mad scientist -- saves Atherton and the Dark Planet. Which is really our planet. Which brings me to global warming. Where, I'm asking, is the mad scientist? I need him right now!

This book didn't interest me very much (although it did make the commuting time more tolerable). It seemed to have a lot of narrative padding -- clearly there is a lot of extraneous detail that I'm not remembering because ultimately it wasn't important. There are also a fair number of standard fantasy tropes (dragon, spaceships, the convenient message or two) that made it pretty predictable. Something in particular bugged me: Our plucky enslaved children have a happy moment playing amongst the vines that grow the Dark Planet's food source. They swing along these vines in carefree play. The author has ripped off himself: The plucky citizens featured in an installment of his other series, The Land of Elyon, do the same thing! How cheesy is that?

The audiobook is narrated by Jonathan Davis and he brings enthusiasm and energy to this story. The narration is nicely varied -- he delivers fear, excitement, anticipation to the listener. He doesn't seem as skilled to me in character creation, though. He uses a limited palette of accents to portray different characters and his choices seem like the ones that are easiest to produce and afford the most distinction: OK, I'll do some standard American, toss in a few British varieties and top it off with some Southern. Beyond creating different characters, I didn't always understand why they spoke that way. I'd spend listening time trying to puzzle it out (instead of remembering plot points).

On top of this, some of his accents just don't sound right. He never seems quite comfortable in them, particularly the British-sounding characters. And the Southern-voiced characters sound very hick-like -- in particular, the young boy Landon, sounds like Ross Perot. Davis also has trouble sustaining consistent characters -- occasionally, it seems like he forgot who was speaking.

So, an "E" for enthusiasm, I'd listen to him read again (and I guess he's got lots of books on his resume); but what would make me happiest (aside from a cooling trend) would be no more Patrick Carman.

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