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March 2005
 
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Charles de Lint
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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

Reflex, by Steven Gould,
Tor Books, 2004, $24.95.

I WAS quite taken with a couple of Gould's earlier novels, Jumper and Wildside, but somehow lost track of him over the years. He writes (at least he does in the three books I've read so far) entertaining but thoughtful sf set in the near future, usually taking one neat idea and running with it. What I particularly enjoy about his work is how, beyond the initial premise, the novels aren't particularly far-fetched. We believe in these characters and take pleasure in the joy with which they use their discoveries.

Because that's something else I enjoy about these books. For all the story tension and drama, there's a huge positive streak running underneath it all.

Jumper is about a teen who discovers he has the ability to teleport, while in Wildside, the main character discovers a portal into another world identical to our own, only minus the people (sort of reminiscent of S. M. Stirling's Conquistador but with an ordinary people can-do spirit, rather than a military bent).

Enjoying those earlier books as much as I did, I couldn't resist the new one, which is a sequel to Jumper. And it turns out Gould hasn't lost one bit of his touch. Reflex is a somewhat darker story than Jumper, but the characters are older, the world is more complicated, and it all makes sense in context.

That said, Gould's characters haven't lost their optimism and joie de vivre, though they're hard-pressed to maintain it at times.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Reflex opens with Davy Rice using his teleportation abilities to help out the U.S. government from time to time. He's called in for one of his infrequent assignments, but is kidnapped along the way by people who know of his abilities. They've figured out how to nullify them with an implanted radio receiver that makes him violently ill every time he gets beyond the "safety field" of their machines—so ill that he collapses, helpless, weak, and very, very sick. Once they finish brainwashing him, they plan to use his abilities to further their own ends.

Now, so far in the history of this alternate world Gould has given us (in which the only difference is Davy's ability to teleport), there has never been a single record of another person being able to do it. But it turns out that if you've been carried along often enough on one of his placement jumps (as has his wife Millie), you might gain the ability as well.

In a moment of danger, Millie teleports herself to safety. With her new ability, and if she can learn to use it properly, she just might be able to find and rescue Davy. Unfortunately, not only does she have to deal with whoever has kidnapped him (and they are seriously nasty), but there are also elements in the government agency that employed Davy who are more eager to get their hands on her than to help her husband.

This is a fun, fast-paced novel that—like Gould's other books—also has a social conscience that gives it more depth than such a story might have in lesser hands.

You don't need to have read Jumper to enjoy the new novel, but all three of the books mentioned here are highly recommended. And as I write those words, I realize that I should really go out and track down the books of his that I'm missing.

*     *     *

The Spiderwick Chronicles, Book 5: The Wrath of Mulgarath, by Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black,
Simon & Schuster, 2004, $9.95.

Warning: spoilers ahead.

And so the Spiderwick books come to an end…or do they? There's a hint of more to come in the verses at the end of the book ("So keep your eyes open/And when you see it, do choose it.…") which might mean more adventures featuring the three Grace children (and possibly their mother and Lucinda, since they're both in on the truth now), or perhaps DiTerlizzi and Black are planning to put out a version of the field guide that started this whole business in Book One.

How does this series end? Well, there's a great deal going on, that's for sure. The children have to rescue their mother from Mulgarath, the Goblin King who has set up shop in a nearby junkyard. Naturally, they're horribly outnumbered, but I don't suppose I'm really spoiling any surprises by saying that they prevail.

I was a little disappointed in this final volume. The story's fine, but I didn't find much character growth, which was disappointing. Considering how much had to be fit in this last volume, that's not so surprising, I suppose.

But the illustrations are still charming, and if you're looking for spirited YA adventure that moves along at a happy clip and plays with all the fairy elements brought up in the previous books, you won't be disappointed.

Given the depth of Black's Tithe, I was just expecting more. But since the series delivers exactly what this sort of book promises it will, I don't have any real cause for complaint.

*     *     *

From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library, by Julie Bartel,
ALA Editions, 2004, $35.

This might seem like an odd title to cover in this column, but I know from my mail that a lot of librarians read these monthly installments, and the book covers a subject dear to my heart, so I'm taking the liberty of using a few column inches to mention it.

Bartel starts off her book with a good working definition of a zine (for those of you who might not have a clue as to what's being discussed here):

"Zines (pronounced 'zeen,' like 'bean,' rather than 'line') are basically small, self-published magazines that are usually (though not always) written by one person and distributed through an intricate network of individuals and collectives. The only thing that all zines have in common is that their existence is the result of passion rather than a desire for profit."

And they can be about anything.

Zines might seem like a throwback to an earlier time in these days when anybody can put up a Web page or a blog and ramble on to their heart's content about any subject under the sun. But some of us still like the feel of paper in our hands and the slapdash punky look that was the trademark of many zines. (I know, I know—I'm forever going on about e-books, but while they're convenient, and I continue to read that format, they'll never be as much fun.)

The first zines I collected were mimeographed. When photocopying arrived it was just a marvel. And then came desktop publishing and the self-publishing world changed forever…not always for the better, I can hear some punters complain.

But I love them, the good and the bad.

I was never a convention-goer when I first got interested in fantasy and sf, so my way of being connected to the community (which also entailed following all the ongoing arguments and feuds therein) was through zines. My bible was the opinionated but always informative SF Review in its various incarnations.

I've also been a music junkie forever, especially of alternative musics that don't normally get much coverage in the regular music press, so zines proved invaluable for my finding out about new recordings and groups I might like, as well as letting me obsess on ones that I already did.

So there you have my bias.

Now what I like so much about Bartel's book (besides how it reminds me of all those smudgy mimeographed zines that used to show up in my P.O. box) is first, the idea of this art form being taken seriously, and second, the chance that From A to Zine might start other collections in other libraries.

Bartel is based in the Salt Lake City Library, and the collection there is formidable and inspiring. But that's only one library, and there are many cities in the world and many potential readers out there who aren't aware yet that they need access to zines, but will quickly become enamored with them once they do discover a library carrying them.

From A to Zine gives a short history of zines and explains how to acquire and store them. The book is chock-full of resource material, everything from how to start up and distribute your own zine to contact info on the zines discussed and considerations on intellectual freedom.

Bartel has a wonderful breezy prose style that never sacrifices content. Like a zine, her writing bubbles with enthusiasm, wit, and the wealth of her knowledge in this field.

You can order copies directly from the American Library Association by contacting them at either (866) 746-7252, or www.alastore.ala.org.

*     *     *

Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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