Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Whales on Stilts! and Feed

Okay, I confess it, the Bibliovore has been on an itsy-bitsy hiatus. I blame finals. Yes, indeed, I blame finals for everything, including world hunger and the way you can never get the last maraschino cherry out of the jar without spilling radioactive red juice everywhere.

Finals doesn't mean I haven't been reading, though.

It's an M.T. Anderson Double Feature here at Confessions of a Bibliovore. I found these two very different books by the same author on the same day, in the same library. What are the odds?

Book: Whales on Stilts!
Author: M.T. Anderson
Published: 2005

Lily is a boring kid. She's quite sure of it. After all, her best friends, Katie and Jaspar have regular adventures, leading to book series, fan clubs, and tie-in products. What does Lily have? Not much, except an instinct that goes "Uh-oh" on the day she visits work with her dad. Maybe it's hearing about all those adventures from Jaspar and Katie, but something about the offices in an abandoned warehouse (with the sign warning of scorpions) and her dad's boss Larry (is she the only one who notices he's wearing a bag over his head?) just sets off her weird-o-meter. Then she discovers that Larry is planning to equip whales with lasers and stilts, for the express purpose of taking over the world.

This could be bad.

But the adults are completely oblivious. Obviously, it's up to the kids. Or more accurately, it's--urp!--up to Lily. Boring old Lily . . . who just may have what it takes to save the world.

This is M.T. Anderson's spoof on all those old adventure books from the 40's or so, not to mention B movies and bad cliches from everywhere. The exclamation point is a necessary part of the title, or else how would you know how desperately thrilling the whole business is? He had a whole lot of fun writing this book, throwing logic and reason out the window as he did so. Every five seconds, I looked up from the book and went "Huh?!??!" The rest of the time I was rolling around laughing.

If you like the Wayside School series and A Series of Unfortunate Events, go pick this book up. The plot dooesn't make much sense, but then it's not supposed to. If the banner across the top of the book ("M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Adventures!") is anything to go by, this may just become a regular series. I hope so. The world needs more books like this.

Book: Feed
Author: M.T. Anderson
Published: 2004

Like all his friends, Titus has always had a feed. It's a chip in his brain that delivers all the latest news, gossip, and ads. But during a vacation on the moon, he, all his friends, and the intriguing girl he has just met get hacked. The feed goes down, and he learns, briefly, what it's like to live inside his own head.

The feed goes back up, but Titus still remembers what it was like. When Violet, that intriguing girl, begins to question the feed, and by extension their entire society, Titus is at first entertained, then weirded out. He loves the feed. He can't live without it. But Violet can't live with it . . .

This is a completely different book from Whales on Stilts! Thoughtful and dystopic, it forces the reader to think about the many insidious ways in which media and big business influence our lives. There's a scene, both hilarious and stomach-turning, in which Violet attempts to get customer support for the feed and is urged to submit a customer profile so they can help her pick out products to buy.

I freely admit to being a complete internet junkie, and even I went, "I gotta get offline," after reading this book. (Obviously, that passed.) Possibly the most disturbing part (for me, at least) was the way that family bonds are completely lost in the shuffle. Anderson wisely leaves the fate of Titus and his dystopia open to interpretation, leaving us with only the fate of Violet to rattle around in our brains and make us get out a little more.