Resourceful kids & teens in sci-fi and detection

2016’s best book, across all the genres I read, was ILLUMINAE (Amy Kaufman & Jay Kristoff).

I’ve long loved epistolary novels, starting with DRACULA. Smart, capable characters never bored me (the fact some die early & movingly) helps. The suspense rises and falls—but mostly rises—so skillfully I kept turning pages way too late into several nights. AIDAN, the endearingly whacko ship’s AI, creates a nicely twisty climax and proves surprisingly sympathetic. HAL still claims top stop in AI villains–that’s tough crazy to top, even for these skilled authors–but AIDAN is charmingly romantic, in addition to deadly.

Okay, I was skeptical about a couple of elements–email and texting will still be in use 500 years from now–but I closed the book a happy reader.

The sequel has just been published, but I felt more fear than pleasure. Lately sequels have disappointed me (yes, I’m talking about you, REVENGE OF THE EVIL LIBRARIAN), and ILLUMINAE set a standard so high any author might blanch and hastily turn to a new series.

Optimism won out over experience.

I leaped.

I’m about a third of the way through GEMINA, and . . . safe landing!

Hanna, Nik, and Ella don’t disappoint. I was initially dubious that fashion-conscious, druggy, blonde, Daddy’s girl Hanna could be as interesting as ILLUMINAE’s Kady. And the authors have endowed Hanna with multiple black belts and military strategy acumen that rivals that of War College graduates, but, hey, we’re in Fiction Land. And while thus far the creepy mutant worms and murderous corporate goons aren’t as scary as AIDAN or the little girl who walks around the Alexander dragging a ragdoll heart (a human heart, mind you, that she’s ripped out of some poor slob’s chest), there’s lots more to come, and I’m anticipating a fun, thrilling, creepy read.

GEMINA delivers. Highly recommended.

Oh, and ILLUMINAE will be a movie soon(ish), and I’m praying Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company doesn’t louse it up the way it did World War Z:

Reading ILLUMINAE and GEMINA has roused recollections of other smart space opera kids who don’t get a lot of blog attention these days, and when I’m done with GEMINA, I plan on doing a reread of my faves.

I’ll start with Andre Norton, who wrote smart teens inevitably caught up in weird and usually deadly adventures.

First, there’s Murdoc Jern (and Eet) in THE ZERO STONE, one of the first Norton stories I read and which captivated me. I followed STONE by reading the body-swapping, culturally complex

MOON OF THREE RINGS, with Krip Vorlund and Maelen.

Norton authored an admirable range of YA sci-fi, and while her prose at times seems over mannered, and those searching for romance should continue searching, these classic tales are worth trying. Or rereading.

Then there’s my favorite space opera author, James H. Schmitz. Sadly neglected these days, he hit a homer with the three young WITCHES OF KARRES, who partner with Captain Pausert in a breathless, often hilarious series of adventures in the Hub of the Universe.

WITCHES is a cult favorite—a first edition will run you some serious change—and deserves the status. Adolescent Telzey Amberdon starred in many of Schmitz’s short stories and a couple of novels, and while humor doesn’t play as large a role in the Amberdon stories, she’s fun to follow. True, all these kids possessed unfair advantages that Kaufman & Kristoff avoid: The witches channel klatha (magic), which allows them to manipulate light, matter, sound, and endows them with varying degrees of psi ability; Telzey is not only brilliant, in her first adventure discovers she’s an adept psi, so much so she’s recruited to work with the government’s Psychology Service, a sort-of FBI charged with solving psi-related crimes.

If you haven’t read these stories, I recommend them wholeheartedly.

And, to round out both the end of April and my thoughts about resourceful teen fiction protagonists, this afternoon I sat through the Orlando Rep’s stage production of NANCY DREW AND HER BIGGEST CASE EVER.

What fun!

Everything I remembered about the books was there—although, admittedly, it’s been years since I last cracked one—including friends George and Bess, dad Carson Drew and faithful housekeeper Hannah, boy-toy Ned, and the roadster that made Nancy the coolest . . . when I was 8. I mean, a car! Seemingly endless $$$. No school obligations that I recall. Allowed to go everywhere and do everything.

Kudos to Playwrights John Maclay & Jeff Frank, who overlooked not one Nancy cliché. The staging was fab, the cast solid, the audience gleeful

Here’s a YouTube vid of the world premiere in Milwaukee:


Gemina Book Cover Gemina
Amy Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff
Juvenile Fiction
Knopf Books for Young Readers
October 20, 2015

For fans of Marie Lu and James Dashner comes the first book in an epic new series. “Never have I read a book so wholly unique and utterly captivating.” —Marie Lu, New York Times bestselling author of the Legend trilogy This morning, Kady thought breaking up with Ezra was the hardest thing she'd have to do. This afternoon, her planet was invaded. The year is 2575, and two rival megacorporations are at war over a planet that's little more than an ice-covered speck at the edge of the universe. Too bad nobody thought to warn the people living on it. With enemy fire raining down on them, Kady and Ezra—who are barely even talking to each other—are forced to fight their way onto one of the evacuating fleet, with an enemy warship in hot pursuit. But their problems are just getting started. A deadly plague has broken out and is mutating, with terrifying results; the fleet's AI, which should be protecting them, may actually be their enemy; and nobody in charge will say what's really going on. As Kady hacks into a tangled web of data to find the truth, it's clear only one person can help her bring it all to light: the ex-boyfriend sheswore she'd never speak to again! Told through a fascinating dossier of hacked documents—including emails, schematics, military files, IMs, medical reports, interviews, and more—Illuminae is the first book in a heart-stopping, high-octane trilogy about lives interrupted, the price of truth, and the courage of everyday heroes.

Science Matters

22 April

Happy Scientists March day! Let’s support all the women and men who daily struggle to further knowledge, NOT alternative facts or vague beliefs. Let’s help stop the assault on science and push back against lies, religious beliefs passed off as scientifically verifiable, and those clueless ones who utter the oh-so-ignorant question: Well, it’s all just theory isn’t it? So that means it’s not all true, right?

Let’s also support efforts to improve the way science is taught in school, particularly high school, so kids graduate knowing what a scientific theory really means. Here’s one explanation, from the theoretical physicist, Marcelo Gleiser, writing for NPR:

And another, from Tia Ghose, writing for Scientific American. She tosses in some other frequently misused scientific terms for good measure:

Here’s a couple of great posters from today’s march (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post):

Support science. Support scientists by ensuring Congress and the states fund their work. And vote–also yell, scream, & rave–against science deniers in the 2018 and, especially, in the 2020 presidential election.

You’re going down, 45! And Pruitt & Betsey will be tumbling with you.

Eugène Thivier (1845-1920) Le cauchemar, Musée des Augustins, Toulouse, France; photo by Traumrune (Wikipedia Commons).

In honor of my father (physicist), my two youngest nieces (a biologist & atmospheric scientist, respectively), and the rest of my family and friends (all science wonks), I’m working on my own small experiment this weekend.

Recently I bought a set of 10 Staedtler triplus fineliner porous point pens—the official name on the label—to give me an excuse to draw a plot diagram for my latest WIP. While I’ve been pleased by the (indeed) fine lines and bright colors, I’ve been about a claim on the back of the package:

DRY SAFE: can be left uncapped for days without drying up (Test ISO 554)


I used to love Sharpie fine point pens. They feel good in my hand. Bright? The ink from those babies practically glows. I marked up many a manuscript with them, delighting in the smooth glide of the pen tip . . . but always afraid. Very afraid. Because Sharpie fine point pens don’t like being left uncapped. Not at all. Air is their enemy, and this has meant that, when using them, the lid-clicking action on my part, as I switched from one color to another, has been near-maniacal lest I tripped over the dry-out threshold.

Staedtler claims their pens don’t dry out? Well, I love a challenge.

Yesterday I chose the color in the set I can easily live without: Pink. I’ve loathed pink since I was a child and was required to wear lots of it, making the choice of sacrificial victim easy. Gleeful, even.

I uncapped that baby and left it to live or die in my air-conditioned office.

It’s been 24 hours. A fresh and hideously pink line runs easily out of the fine tip an onto the paper.

How long will it take to kill the pink?

I’ll be checking back daily.