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Whales on Stilts!
M.T. Anderson
Harcourt, 200 pages

Whales on Stilts!
M.T. Anderson
M.T. Anderson is the author of The Game of Sunken Places, Burger Wuss, Thirsty, and Feed, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book and the winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Charlene Brusso

Pulp science fiction may be an acquired taste, but what better time to acquire it than when you're young? And if you're older, all the better, for you'll have the proper background to truly appreciate the fine, full bouquet of a good, meaty pulp sf story -- as well as the postmodern layers of self-deprecating humor and deft message of empowerment knitted into this book. All of which makes M.T. Anderson's latest novel (soon to be a series: book #2, The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, is due to appear early next year) well worth reading.

For those unfamiliar with Anderson's work, this Boston-based writer is probably best known for the disturbing young adult SF novel Feed, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for YA Fiction and a finalist for the National Book Award. Feed was dark, dystopian, and dense with invented slang, Whales is just as sly, but also funny, a satire which loves the genre it's sending up even as it pokes fun with deadpan asides and brisk, even perky, story-telling.

The story begins with unlikely heroine Lily Gefelty's chilling Career Day discovery: her dad works for a mad scientist who wants to rule the world. Dad, of course, has no idea of his boss's evil plan -- despite the fact his company is housed in an abandoned warehouse, full of guards with big guns and with an enormous laboratory that screams 'top secret.'

Dad's in Sales and Marketing, and as far as he's concerned, his workplace is "a mid-sized company devoted to expanding cetacean pedestrian opportunities." That's right. "We make stilts for whales. See? Nothing suspicious." But Dad's boss Larry wears a damp grain sack over his head with two holes cut out for his eyes, and has blue, rubbery hands. Then Lily hears Larry recommend that Dad not take the family to visit Lily's grandmother in Decentville next month, because that's where Larry will begin his campaign to take over the world!

Lily doesn't have much faith in her own ability to stop Larry's evil plot. She does, however, have two best friends, Katie Mulligan and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, who are more than up to the challenge. After all, both are famous for defeating the bad guys, and each is the star of their own young adult adventure series. Plucky Katie lives in Horror Hollow, "a suburban development just off Route 666", and has plenty of experience fighting zombies, werewolves, flesh-eating viruses, and other nightmarish things. Jasper, on the other hand -- a gallant adventurer in his gray wool shorts, long socks, Norfolk jacket, and aviator's cap -- is an intrepid inventor and staunch defender of good, traveling the world to defeat smugglers, spies, and yetis in diamond mines while uttering phrases like, "Dash it all, chums, this sounds a mighty pickle."

The very best thing about Katie and Jasper, of course, is that they are honest and loyal friends who know Lily is "a hero just waiting to happen." Together the trio contrives a plot to stop Larry's evil scheme, despite inopportune attacks from stilt-walking whales with laser beam eyes, and interruptions from writers from the Horror Hollow series.

Anderson's humor is a step beyond that of Lemony Snicket, fearlessly poking fun at the details while never discounting our heroes' courage in the face of danger. That approach makes for a novel to entertain both young readers, who may happily take it at face value, and older folks, who'll find a tasty multilayered satire which does the good deed of never talking down to its readers.

Copyright © 2005 Charlene Brusso

Charlene's sixth grade teacher told her she would burn her eyes out before she was 30 if she kept reading and writing so much. Fortunately he was wrong. Her work has also appeared in Aboriginal SF, Amazing Stories, Dark Regions, MZB's Fantasy Magazine, and other genre magazines.

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