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Kaspian Lost
Richard Grant
Avon/Spike Books, 313 pages

Kaspian Lost
Richard Grant
Richard Grant is the author of at least 7 novels, including In the Land of Winter and Rumors of Spring, a personal favourite. His book, Through the Heart, won the Philip K. Dick Award. He lives in Lincolnville, on the coast of Maine.

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A review by David Soyka

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"The best stories are the weird ones." So declares the protagonist in Richard Grant's latest novel, Kaspian Lost, of which this story certainly is one. Grant couples the politics of two otherwise unlikely connected subjects -- school reform and UFO abductions -- and grafts them onto a highly amusing coming-of-age fable (as if growing up isn't weird enough without having to endure crackpot politicos and alien visitations).

Kaspian is a smart 15-year-old misfit grasping with such questions as the meaning of the universe and his role in it, not to mention the meaning of sex and when will he get to experience it. And, that's right, as Kaspian himself must tiredly point out several times, his name is that of C.S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, except that being spelled with a "K" suggests a sort of undermining, much as leftists used to refer to "Amerika" to imply fascism in a democracy. Like his namesake, Kaspian is a sort of stranger in his own land, embarking on an adventure in an alternate reality, populated by extraordinary creatures, that is somehow accessible to human children who come to dictate its fate.

Kaspian's Christian fundamentalist stepmother has been unsuccessfully attempting to get him on the straight and narrow path following the death of his father (a familiar fairy tale motif, though this time the abandoned child is male, for whatever Freudian overtones that might have; it's also an ironical subversion of the overt Christian symbolism of Caspian in Lewis's famous children's allegory). To that end, Kaspian is sent to a summer camp run by the American Youth Academies (AYA), a for-profit corporation that hopes to become for alternative schools what "McDonalds" is to fast food -- ubiquitous and a first choice for consumption (though hardly the most nutritious).

Kaspian's troubles begin when he disappears from the camp for four days with no recollection of what has happened to him beyond vague reminiscences of little men and an ethereal angel-like being who touches him in sexually suggestive ways. Whether Kaspian has actually been abducted by aliens or is just more in tune with a higher plane of reality, or if his adolescence hormones have made him a little more crazier than most, is ambiguous, though Grant tends to tip the scales slightly towards an actual transcendental experience.

As long as he keeps this experience to himself, Kaspian suffers punishment only for disobedient miscreance. But after he confides in a supposed friend who betrays his story to a school counsellor, Kaspian is shipped off to an AYA school for "troubled" children in Virginia. With its proximity to the nation's capital, the school showcases how difficult students can be rendered into academic and social conformists to persuade Congressional passage of the Educational Freedom Initiative, a national voucher and tax credit program that would result in more customers and greater profitability for AYA. That a Congresswoman in a highly influential position to approve funding is also a UFO aficionado with ties to a shadowy think tank of alien abduction theorists makes Kaspian all the more a valuable property. Upon making his escape from Virginia (and also, significantly, losing his virginity), Kaspian embarks on a deeper search for the truth about himself and what may have actually happened to him.

Kaspian is lost, both literally in having gotten physically lost and figuratively in being lost amidst the banalities and inanities of adult prejudices and social expectations. I suppose that, like myself, most SF Site readers will find their own adolescent experiences share a lot in common with Kaspian (that in part is how we became science fiction readers in the first place, isn't it?). Although the novel is written in the third person, the voice it echoes is that of Kaspian, so at times the narration seems to get a little bit too smarmy, and the philosophical discussions no more sophisticated than a typical BS session among bright high school sophomores. But, for me anyway, the accuracy in which that voice is rendered is part of the book's charm.

The novel ends ambiguously, with forebodings of a grand adventure, which is how the imminent end of adolescence should be, even without the aid of spiritual guides, although for many the adventure unfortunately may not turn out quite as grand as hoped. By leaving open such question as whether Kaspian ever develops a deeper relationship with his troubled girlfriend, or if he finds the courage to try to change things rather than remain a passive cynic, Grant gets right to the heart of the adolescent dilemma. It's the right way to end a coming-of-age tale, because ultimately, there are no answers to be found in adulthood, just more perplexing questions.

I don't know if Grant has a sequel in mind to further explore these questions. But if there ever will be a "Kaspian Found," I for one would welcome hearing about how Kaspian makes out.

Copyright © 1999 David Soyka

David Soyka is a former journalist and college teacher who writes the occasional short story and freelance article. He makes a living writing corporate marketing communications, which is a kind of fiction without the art.


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