Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What happened to Evas One through Eight?

Speaking of books from one's childhood, I can't mention the one that figures prominently in The Search for WondLa without giving away a major spoiler. But I loved that book as a kid. And I love how it acts as a touchstone for the young heroine of Tony DiTerlizzi's new series. However, I didn't love WondLa much until the connection is revealed at the very end of the book ... but then I had the most marvelous time thinking back about Eva Nine's story and how cleverly and affectionately it evoked its inspiration. (Convoluted enough for you?)

Eva [pronounced EH-vuh] Nine has been raised in the underground Sanctuary by her Muthr (Multi-Utility Task Help Robot). Muthr's job is to prepare Eva Nine for life above -- on planet Earth, and the 12-year-old has been training all her life to survive up there. Eva doesn't understand (and doesn't question much) why she's being raised this way, but she is heartily tired of the lessons and Muthr's strict upbringing. She is ready to explore the world beyond the comfortable, high-tech walls of the Sanctuary. Her chance to leave, though, comes a little too soon.

The Sanctuary is breached by a horrific monster with a sonic weapon that destroys everything in its path. Muthr hustles Eva Nine to the surface, telling her to use her Omnipod to find the humans in the nearest Sanctuary. Muthr will be in contact as soon as things are safe again. But what Eva Nine finds on the surface is not as Muthr described it to her. The Omnipod has never seen the lifeforms she encounters and there are no humans anywhere. Soon Eva is captured by the monster hunter, Besteele [pronounced like the prison, Bastille]. Her fate appears to be sealed (except that there's a whole bunch of the book to go), when -- with the help of another captive, the blue-skinned Rovender, and a gentle water bear who communicates telepathically -- she escapes. Returning for Muthr, the adventurers set off on a journey to find other Sanctuaries, other humans. But Rovender explains that they aren't on planet Earth, they're on Orbona.

This is your standard quest adventure: Our heroine steps out on a journey that will change her, meets odd characters along the way who don't seem worthy of accompanying her at first, trials are endured, losses and disappointments come, and at the end we understand how and why we got there. DiTerlizzi is keeping plenty back -- this is the first of a [sigh] trilogy, but he does create a somewhat satisfying end to Eva Nine's journey.

What I liked most about this story is the relationship between Eva Nine and Muthr. (Of course, as a listener, I didn't realize it was "muthr" until some way into the story when the acronym is explained.) Muthr is doting and over-protective -- insisting that Eva eat the processed food and water purification tablets she brings along rather than the native foods Rovender forages for them. We aren't surprised that Eva wants to cut the apron strings. But as the story continues, the bond between the two becomes more complicated. Is Muthr simply a machine carrying out a mission? Does Eva have a right to chafe under her restrictions?

You may know that there are images in the book (and also on the audiobook's discs) that can be held up (clumsily) to a computer camera in order to access 3D images via WondLa-Vision. This was kind of an awkward add-on that seemed just another misbegotten entry in the 3D craze. And, of course it has nothing to do with the audiobook. You'll do just fine without it. This image is the one you "show" to your computer's camera. The center hand-mirror-shaped object is Eva's Omnipod -- what we would currently call a smartphone.

A narrator best known for her acting, Teri Hatcher, reads the book. And she surprised me, she's quite good. She has a slightly husky speaking voice which is very pleasant to listen to. There's not a vast cast of characters to portray, but Hatcher does a fine job in creating different voices for each one. She gives Muthr a slightly robotic delivery that remains warm and loving. Eva is girlish and impetuous, and Rovender calm and confident. The voicing for the telepathic water bear, Otto, sounds as if it were coming from a huge, placid creature. The voice of the Omnipod is suitably automated-sounding.

DiTerlizzi has illustrated his novel, and -- even though a listener is just fine without seeing them, they are fun enough that you might want to find a copy and take a look. It certainly helps in visualizing all the bizarre creatures with which he has populated the novel. It's not as ambitious as Hugo Cabret, but it's clear that he was inspired -- in part -- by Brian Selznick's work.

The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi
Narrated by Teri Hatcher
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2010. 10:30

1 comment:

Sue Jackson said...

I've had this book (both audio and paper) sitting here waiting to be read/listened to for a while now. Thanks for the great review - I found your blog through the Audio Jukebox site. In fact, thanks for reminding me - I posted a new audio review last week and forgot to post it there.

Maybe we'll take this one on vacation with us this summer.