Tuesday, December 18, 2012
100 Books #121 - Jonathan L. Howard's KATYA'S WORLD
I had to keep reminding myself, as I read Katya's World, that without Wesley Crusher, who annoyed millions with his over-the-top precocity and tendency to save the occasionally weirdly bumbling asses of the crew of the Enterprise-D, we would not have the 24k slab of awesome that is Wil Wheaton today. Which is to say that sometimes, it's worth putting up with an improbably gifted young protagonist being the one to think of all the solutions to all the problems in order to enjoy the rest of a show's or novel's offerings.*
And what offerings there are! Like a stormy human-colonized water world, in which everybody lives in underwater cities, travels by submarine, and struggles to exploit the amazing mineral resources on the ocean floor and in the ocean water. Like a colony of entirely Russian descent (the powers-that-were in the waves of human colonization having concluded that removing the possibility of ethnic tensions was a very good idea) who eschew intoxicants and other Russian folkways because the environment is too hostile and drunkenness can easily lead to death.
Like a war fought under the waves, not among said Russian-descended colonists, but against invaders -- from Earth! A war that warped the culture of Katya's world forever, ten years before the events of this novel unfold, and is still warping it.
And, most importantly and excitingly, like a giant mysterious something haunting the deep, destroying subs and interfering with transport and commerce, which Big Benthic Baddie starts having a direct and frightening effect on Katya's own fifteen-year-old life as she starts her career as a submarine navigator! Said BBB and its secrets providing a marvelously creepy and menacing undertone to the whole novel. Yowza.
All this and a fascinatingly enigmatic hero-villain amalgam who totally steals the book even before we find out what he's really up to. Except that might not be what he's really really up to. Except that it might be after all. See?
So on the whole, I agree with my dear EssJay, who loved the Snape out of this book and hopes to see more works, maybe even for grown-ups, set in this fascinating world. Howard handles the science and the sociology very well, as well as the tension of sub-oceanic combat, sub-hunting, seek-and-destroy missions, discussions on the nature of synthetic vs. artificial intelligence**, so I know that, for instance, some prequel work on the war that preceded this story, or how Earth went from a colonizing powerhouse to something mysteriously crippled and desperate, would make for good reading for any age group.
And really? Katya's Wesley Crusher-ism isn't that annoying. If you could tolerate Sheriff Carter's always being the one to come up with the brilliant off-beat solution that all the scientists in Eureka couldn't, Katya won't bother you at all. But if you caught yourself rolling your eyes at Carter sometimes, well, they'll roll a bit more for this. But don't let that stop you. This is a neat book!
*And really, I want to forgive said annoying precocity and ass-saving as maybe one of the necessary trappings of young adult fiction, which I have but rarely read, even back when I was a young adult, but is that the case? At any rate, I probably wouldn't have noticed/been bothered by it so much had this been a first person narrative, in which case I could take it as a slightly unreliable narrator maybe inflating her importance to the course of events a bit, instead of the third person omniscient that I got. A pity.
**And, as Essjay so gleefully pointed out, even this heady stuff is made lucid for young readers but is never presented in a condescending info-dump, in narration or dialogue, which is always appreciated!