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Schrödinger's Bookshelf: Young Adult and Short Fiction Reviews
by Michael M Jones
Welcome to Schrödinger's Bookshelf, where I attempt to unlock the eternal mystery of what's good and what's not, by being the first to open the box for you. My specialties, for in this day and age, even SF reviews need specialties, are the short fiction and young adult markets, so you can expect to find a mixture of both. I'll tackle novels, anthologies, magazines, webzines, single-author collections, chapbooks, even audiobooks, so long as they fall under the broad spectrum of "short fiction" or "young adult/children's" SF and fantasy. And without further ado, on with the show.

[Editor's Note: Here you will find the other Schrödinger's Bookshelf columns.]

Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace
MaryJanice Davidson and Anthony Alongi
Berkley Jam Books, 259 pages

Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace When Jennifer's parents gave her the usual "birds and bees" speech, they managed to leave out the part where the otherwise normal teenager would someday start growing scales, claws, fangs, and a tail, and be able to perform superhuman feats of strength and agility. So when the changes start to occur, they really throw Jennifer for a loop, especially since this upheaval in her life is wreaking havoc with her social, academic, and athletic lives. When it's finally explained that Jennifer is one of a long line of weredragons (like her father), part of a hidden community that dwells amongst and alongside regular humanity, it's not the most reassuring thing Jennifer ever could have heard. Now she has to contend with being a dragon for several days out of every month! Worse still, Jennifer's displaying a wide mixture of powers, where most dragons concentrate upon one specific aspect of their being. So not only is she a monster out of myth, she's a freak even among her own kind.

As Jennifer continues to learn about the secrets of her heritage, spending time with other young weredragons and hearing the old stories from her grandfather, she slowly realizes just how changed her world really is. And she learns about the deadly enemies of her kind: human hunters called beaststalkers, and were-spiders, who also dwell in secret. As evidence mounts that both were-spiders and beaststalkers have infiltrated even the closest aspects of her life, Jennifer is forced to fight for her life and call upon previously-unknown abilities. And what does the legend of the Ancient Furnace have to do with everything that's going on?

Best known for her romantic comedies involving vampires and werewolves, MaryJanice Davidson teams up with her husband here to deliver the first in a new series, and they get things rolling with a fairly strong start. While much of Jennifer Scales and the Ancient Furnace is dedicated to setup and exploration of the series' premise, it still offers a good, entertaining story filled with some intriguing turns and surprises. As concepts go, it's relatively underutilized, and still feels fresh, giving off a Buffyesque vibe. Jennifer is a good, strong character with a lot of potential, and I look forward to future offerings in this series.

Lady with an Alien
Mike Resnick
Watson-Guptill Publications, 192 pages

Lady with an Alien Legendary genius and the original (and literal) Renaissance man, Leonardo da Vinci, struggles with a painting commissioned by his current patron, the Regent of Milan. The problem is, the subject of the painting is an empty-headed, vacuous woman whose only virtue is her status as the Regent's mistress, and her cat (who absolutely has to be in the painting) is uncooperative. Leonardo resents the time wasted on this project, so when a strange mystery in the form of an alien creature wanders into his life, he leaps at the chance to turn his attentions to a new topic. But the creature, which is unlike anything ever seen on Earth before, is not alone; its owner, a young man from the far future soon comes to claim it, and Leonardo convinces this boy, Mario by name, to stay for a while as his guest. Now playing host to a time-traveler and an alien, Leonardo is overjoyed, finally having intellectual challenges to fuel his curiosity. Determined to capture the look of his alien visitor for posterity, he makes some changes to his current painting-in-progress, replacing cat with alien.

The days to follow are full of fascinating discussions between Leonardo and Mario, as they compare aspects of the past and future, with Mario bound to silence on a great many subjects (so as not to change history) and Leonardo forever trying to puzzle out the future (and his ultimate impact on history). The two become unlikely friends, with Mario meeting some of the greatest minds and men of Leonardo's era, and Leonardo himself getting some idea of his place in the centuries to come. And the painting that he creates as a result of this encounter will help to cement his reputation as an artistic genius for all time.

Lady with an Alien is part of Watson-Guptill's line of historical fiction books aimed at introducing young readers to the works and styles of various great painters. As such, the book is short (a little) on plot, and long on talking heads, exposition, and dialogue, as Leonardo and Mario exchange ideas and explore da Vinci's world. It's really quite well-done, educational and interesting without dragging, and it's fun to watch Leonardo try to outsmart (and continually be stymied by) Mario in predicting the future. And of course, examining the particular genius of da Vinci has its own value. As an added bonus, there's a brief essay on da Vinci, a timeline, and reproductions of various sketches in the back. I greatly enjoyed this book, and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to those interested in Leonardo da Vinci and his unique style.

River Rats
Caroline Stevermer
Harcourt, 305 pages

River Rats In the future, after much of civilization has been wiped out by the holocaust known as the Flash, a group of teenage orphans travel the length of the Mississippi River in an ancient, yet serviceable steamboat, making ends meet through barter, mail delivery and their post-Apocalyptic brand of rock-and-roll concerts. A close-knit band of friends who act as family for one another, they may squabble but they always agree on one thing: no passengers. But a chance encounter and a series of strange incidents causes them to take aboard a ragged old traveler who's being chased by a vicious group of backwoods thugs. And from that moment on, the so-called Rats are in danger and adventure up to their ears. For the stranger knows the location of a pre-Flash cache of food, music, and weapons, the contents of which are priceless by any standards.

When their enemies catch up to them, the Rats are forced to embark on a bizarre journey both upriver and over land, making their way through ancient abandoned cities now haunted by feral children and much worse, to find the legendary lost treasure trove of the Pharaoh, a pre-Flash musical superstar. Their allies are dubious and untrustworthy, and their enemies are ruthless. Can the Rats survive an adventure which threatens to uncover parts of the past which were meant to stay buried?

This is a post-Apocalyptic rock 'n' roll adventure story with attitude, combining music, mystery, and action in the best tradition. The characters wield their fiercely independent natures like fine weapons as they carve out their way through a landscape brimming with strange threats, but they never forget their loyalties to one another. River Rats is great fun, and it's good to see that it has been reprinted once again.

Any material for consideration may be sent to Michael M. Jones, 2717 Bobolink Lane, Roanoke, VA 24018. Feel free to mark on the outside whether it's short fiction, young adult, or fan mail. Anything ticking, shaking, smoking, or glowing will be given to the cats as a toy. You can also contact me via email at everbard@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2006 Michael M Jones

Michael M Jones enjoys an addiction to books, for which he's glad there is no cure. He lives with his very patient wife (who doesn't complain about books taking over the house... much), eight cats, and a large plaster penguin that once tasted blood and enjoyed it. A prophecy states that when Michael finishes reading everything on his list, he'll finally die. He aims to be immortal.


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