Tales from the Wonder Zone #4: Odyssey
(Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004. US$15.95 trade paperback, 129 pages.)
On the theory that "the Golden Age of science fiction is 13," this
publisher has Wonder Zone has published some of the most original, engaging,
and often hair-raising stories I've read over the last few years. By
all means, use the book for its intended purpose -- take it to class,
buy it for your kids -- but read it yourself first.
forth a series designed to hook young readers on both science and fiction.
The stories vary in target age range, from grades 5 through 8. Honestly,
The introduction this time features Greg Bear, a talented author and
lecturer, explaining science fiction as a kind of game. "Jigsaw" by
Douglas Smith is a darkly amusing look at what can go wrong when humans
use alien technology they don't fully understand: "Found with still-only-partly-translated,
we-think-this-button-does-this libraries and databases, and we-can't-fix-it-so-it-better-never-break
technology." It's one of several stories in this anthology with a communication
theme. M.T. O'Shaughnessy's "Skeeters" ventures into the realm of physics
instead, although I'm more accustomed to hearing "skeeter" as slang
for "mosquito" than "water strider." That's the source of inspiration
for how to cope with crash-landing in a mercury ocean. A young man struggles
to find his place in an alien world in Sarah Jane Elliott's "Tides of
Change." This one has elements similar to fantasy, but still grounded
in science. Francine P. Lewis tackles unplanned parenthood in a completely
innovative -- and disturbing -- way in "To Feast on Royal Jelly" in
which the protagonist's carelessness lands him more responsibility than
he knows what to do with. My favorite illustration is the one for this
story, featuring one of the Sanirtoh mor Sartoh. Laura Anne Gilman presents
an impressive set of haiku riddles about the planets of our solar system
(answers on the next page). Some are easy to solve, others challenging!
Annette Griessman tells her story, "Treasures," from the alien perspective.
Desperate humans grab the wrong things for trade goods.
I found the last story, "Defining an Elephant" by Peter Watts, disappointing
in comparison with the others. Its narrow premise was too obvious for
my taste. Worse, it violates the rule about protagonists needing to
have some way of influencing their situation -- because all the action
happens in the flashbacks, and the conclusion just sort of dribbles
away into hopelessness. This really clashes with Wonder Zone's
overall "work the problem!" attitude.
Odyssey makes a terrific addition to a terrific series. As intended,
it holds enormous appeal for young readers; but for older fans, it's
a trip down memory lane. Most highly recommended.
Review by Elizabeth Barrette.